Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, November 18, 2005


As has been widely discussed in the corporate media, a major setback to stability and reconstruction in Iraq was the widespread looting that followed the U.S. invasion. Until this week, however, when they were forced to take notice by criminal indictments, the media in the U.S. largely ignored the biggest looters of all: that is the Coalition Provisional Authority appointed by Emperor Chimpoleon the First, and the mostly U.S. corporations with which it did business.

The British charity Medact issues regular reports on the state of public health in Iraq. The criminality of the Bush administration is, unavoidably, a big part of the story. The Summer 2005 report (PDF) includes the following information:

Growing Evidence of Corruption
‘If you take US $10 million from the US government and sub the job out to Iraqi businesses for US $250,000, is that business, or is it corruption?’
Ed Kubba, American-Iraqi Chamber of Commerce

At the time of the last Medact report on Iraq there were rumours and accusations that there had been gross corruption and a lack of transparency within the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). These have since been confirmed. Stuart Bowen, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, reported to Congress at the end of January that inadequate CPA controls meant that there was no assurance that $8.8bn from the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI) had been used, as mandated by Security Council resolution 1483, ‘to meet the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people, for the economic reconstruction and repair of Iraq’s infrastructure, for the continued disarmament of Iraq, for the costs of Iraqi civilian administration, and for other purposes benefiting the people of Iraq’. The DFI is Iraqi money, mostly revenue from oil sales, and $8.8bn is equivalent to almost 10 years of Ministry of Health spending at current (2004) levels. [emphasis added]

In other words, the United States invaded Iraq, installed a colonial regime, and set about stealing the oil wealth of the Iraqi people. The report goes on to say that under the CPA, the same work was subcontracted five or six times and was still profitable -- in other words, a long chain of middlemen simply pocketed the money before a remnant made it down to people who may have actually done work. The so-called "Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance" was supervised by the U.S. military. As the report says, "ORHA were inexperienced. Furthermore, military involvement blurs the line between the military and the reconstruction efforts, narrowing the humanitarian space and making life more dangerous for the humanitarian agencies." Things got no better after the so-called "handover of sovereignty" and the January elections. Western NGOs are seeing no results from spending. The U.S. pledged $32 building for Iraqi reconstruction in 2003 but apparently has approved less than a half billion in spending so far, and spent almost nothing. International funds that have been spent have gone in substantial part to administrators based in Amman and Washington.

Here's a case study:
One of the major contracts in the health sector was awarded by USAID to Abt Associates.* USAID audited Abt and found that only 40% of the work achieved its intended output. Incomplete work included a household survey, a primary healthcare quality improvement programme and a facilities database. There were serious delays in the delivery of 600 kits containing essential equipment such as stethoscopes and blood pressure cuffs to primary health centres (PHCs). However, since the contract had expired by the time the audit was published, the report concludes that “there is little that can be done with regards to the activities and unachieved outputs.”

Among the consequences:

  1. Only 54% of Iraqi households have access to safe water.
  2. 36% of households have "unimproved" toilets -- i.e., they use buckets or open pit latrines.
  3. 23% of children age 6 to 59 months suffer from chronic malnutrition; 8% are acutely malnourished
  4. 9% of children under five had had diarrhea in the two weeks before a survey
  5. Four of Baghdad's hospitals do not have safe drinking water, and 60% of toilets in hospitals do not work. One hospital had sewage backed up into the basement. Five did not have refrigeration facilities. Half the hospitals did not have disinfectant solution in stock.
  6. There is almost no public health expertise in Iraq, no training is available in public health, and there are no plans to fund any
  7. There are no effective health information or disease surveillance systems in Iraq
  8. Community based mental health services are nearly non-existent
Etc. The report covers the debate about the civilian death toll and reviews the security situation, and discusses various other subjects. It's only 8 pages long, but it crams a lot in.

Mission Accomplished.

* Medact has it as "ABT Associates" but that is a common error, which I have corrected. They appear to be referring to Abt Associates, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which is named after the founder Clark Abt, who should get a vowel. Redacted 1:45 pm.

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