will never truly be known. We won't necessarily hear from our TV news about the full toll of assassinations, car bombings, roadside bombings, firefights, drive-by shootings, massacres, mortar strikes and air strikes in Iraq every day, but there are news outlets that do their best to keep track of these. (As usual, I have to tout Today in Iraq, but there are other places you can go as well, including the excellent Reuters AlertNet Foundation). However, death by violence doesn't begin to tell the story of the carnage and suffering in Iraq.
We are often told that the problems are exclusively in the Baghdad region and the so-called Sunni triangle in the middle of the country, with the Shiite south, along with Kurdistan, being peaceful and enjoying all that "progress" -- newly painted schools, re-sodded soccer fields, and so forth. But now representatives of the European agency Saving Children from War have visited the southern city of Basra and found the following:
As a result of water-borne diseases and a lack of medical supplies, infants born in the southern city of Basra are subject to abnormally high mortality rates, say officials of an international NGO devoted to child health issues.
"For weeks, there were no I.V. fluids available in the hospitals of Basra," said Marie Fernandez, spokeswoman for European aid agency Saving Children from War. "As a consequence, many children, mainly under five-years old, died after suffering from extreme cases of diarrhoea."
Fernandez went on to cite a number of problems facing local hospitals in Basra, which is located some 550km south of the capital, Baghdad. "Hospitals have no ventilators to help prematurely-born babies breathe," Fernandez said. "And there are very few nurses available, so hospitals often must allow family members to care for patients."
Many doctors in the area say that the local health situation has deteriorated markedly since the US-led invasion of the country in 2003. "The mortality of children in Basra has increased by nearly 30 percent compared to the Saddam Hussein era," Dr Haydar Salah, a paediatrician at the Basra Children's Hospital, pointed out. "Children are dying daily, and no one is doing anything to help them."
Fernandez added that, for the last three years, the Maternity and Children's' hospital in Basra had not received any cancer drugs from the health ministry. "In all of Basra, a city with nearly two million inhabitants, there's no radiotherapy department available," Fernandez complained.
Khalid Ala'a, spokesman for local NGO Keeping Children Alive, said that Basra hospitals lacked many essential drugs and antibiotics used to treat infections common to the area. "We've asked for help from the Ministry of Health, but they only tell us they don't have money to supply hospitals," Ala'a said. "They tell us we must wait for investment, which could take months."
Iraq, which once had a highly advanced public health and medical system, and population health status and life expectancy commensurate with the developed European states, is now in a condition comparable to the most impoverished parts of rural Africa. Weapons of mass destruction, anyone?