Death and Disease in Iraq
by Jim Lobe
21,000 and 55,000 people have died as a result of the U.S.-led invasion
of Iraq and its aftermath, according to a new report that also warned
of rapidly deteriorating health conditions for those who survived.
Medact, the British affiliate of International Physicians for the
Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), concluded that the war's continuing
impact particularly the failure of occupation authorities
to ensure security has resulted in a further deterioration
of the Iraqi population's health status. IPPNW's U.S. affiliate,
Physicians for Social Responsibility, joined in the report's release
Tuesday. The report's funding was provided by Oxfam and the Polden-Puckham
health of the Iraqi people is generally worse than before the war,"
according to an executive summary of the 12-page report, which noted
that the state of health in Iraq was already poor by international
standards. It said women and children were particularly at risk
due to the breakdown in law and order and damage to infrastructure
and that women were also being affected by the emergence of religious
conservatism after the war.
report, entitled "Continuing
Collateral Damage: The Health and Environmental Costs of War on
Iraq 2003," is the follow-up to a pre-war study released
last November that predicted at the time that between 49,000 and
261,000 people could be killed in an invasion of Iraq over three
much lower estimated death toll in the seven months that followed
the March 20 invasion is due primarily to the quick collapse of
Iraqi military resistance and the fact that no weapons of mass destruction
report says that 172 U.S. and British combatants were killed during
the war period (March 20 to May 1) and another 222 died between
May 2 and October 20. It estimates the number of civilians killed
during the war at between 5,708 and 7,356. From May 2 to October
20, the report estimates civilian deaths resulting from hostilities
at between 2,049 and 2,209.
major unknown, according to the report, is the number of Iraqi military
deaths during the war. As few as 13,500 or as many as 45,000
soldiers and paramilitary fighters are believed to have been
killed, based on extrapolations from death rates of between three
and ten percent found in the units around Baghdad, as well as U.S.
military estimates that 2,320 Iraqi soldiers were killed in and
around Baghdad alone.
the absence of official body counts, "the final toll will probably
never be known" the report concluded, noting that the Iraqi
Red Crescent is currently exhuming mass graves to identify Iraqi
war dead around Baghdad and elsewhere.
addition, thousands of combatants on both sides, as well as civilians,
suffered serious injuries, including amputations and mental trauma,
according to the report. It noted that one source, Iraq Body Count,
estimated at least 20,000 civilian injuries by July, of which 8,000
were in Baghdad alone. Deaths and injuries from unexploded ordnance
have continued, and are likely to be under-reported, according to
the independent Mines Advisory Group (MAG).
report estimated the number of Iraqi military wounded at roughly
three times the death toll.
full health impact of the war, however, continues to be felt in
a variety of ways that defy precise monitoring due to the lack of
accurate data, the failure of occupation authorities to collect
and record data, and the inability of the Iraqi health system to
cope with the number of people who need treatment.
access to clean water and sanitation, poverty, malnutrition, and
disruption of public services including health services continue
to have a negative impact on the health of the Iraqi people,"
according to Dr. Sabya Farooq, the report's main author.
damage, including extensive pollution of land, sea, rivers, and
the atmosphere some of which may have spilled over to neighboring
countries is also a major concern covered by the report.
Oil well fires created oil spills and toxic smoke, while military
convoys disrupted the desert economy. Land mines and other ordinance
have maimed people and animals and continue to pose a hazard in
various parts of the country.
worrisome are the remains of some of the military debris, particularly
depleted uranium used in weapons and armor, and material looted
from nuclear power plant sites, much of which remains to be accounted
health and environmental consequences of the war will be felt for
many years to come," said Medact president, Dr. June Crown.
report expressed particular concern about the health of young children.
While Iraq had built one of the most advanced health systems in
the developing world before the first Gulf War in 1991, that war
and the sanctions that followed had a disastrous impact on its performance.
One in eight children under five died before their fifth birthday;
one in four was chronically malnourished; a quarter of all newborns
were underweight; while maternal mortality stood at 294 for every
100,000 births, roughly the same level as Peru and Bangladesh.
the immediate aftermath of the most recent war, small-scale studies
found a dramatic increase in waterborne diseases, including typhoid
and cholera and a doubling of acute malnutrition or wasting
problems to which young children are particularly vulnerable.
report makes a series of recommendations to the occupation authorities,
noting that, with the influx of new resources and the end of sanctions,
health services could be significantly upgraded once security is
assured. But it expresses concerns about the heavy participation
of for-profit companies, mostly from the U.S., that have been awarded
contracts to provide services and technical aid in the health sector.
successful post-World War II reconstruction of Europe and Japan,
it notes, included substantial investment in public health systems.
"On the basis of international evidence," it urges, "commercialization
of health care should be avoided."
of the Iraqi health sector, the report recommends, should be based
"on the principle that health and health care are fundamental
social rights... and an important aspect of nation-building..."
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2003 OneWorld