Malnutrition Rate for Iraqi Children Soars

December 4, 2004

On November 23, the U.N. children's agency (UNICEF) reported that the malnutrition rate for children in Iraq has doubled since the start of the U.S. invasion.

The agency said fighting was "wreaking havoc" throughout the country and there was little it could do to ease the plight of children because most relief agencies are being prevented from conducting operations in the country. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children are suffering from diarrhea and nutrition deficiencies as a result, UNICEF chief Carol Bellamy said.

Another survey by the Norway-based Fafo Institute for Applied Social Science said that since the March 2003 invasion, malnutrition among children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years old has grown to 7. 7 percent from 4 percent.

That figure means roughly 400,000 Iraqi children are suffering from "wasting," a condition characterized by chronic diarrhea and dangerous deficiencies of protein. "These figures clearly indicate the downward trend," said Alexander Malyavin, a child health specialist with the UNICEF mission to Iraq.

Iraq's child malnutrition rate now roughly equals that of Burundi, and is far higher than rates in Uganda and Haiti.

"The people are astonished," said Khalil M. Mehdi, who directs the Nutrition Research Institute in Iraq. He and other analysts attributed the increase in malnutrition to dirty water and to unreliable supplies of the electricity needed to make it safe by boiling.

According to studies, 60 percent of rural residents and 20 percent of urban dwellers have access only to contaminated water.