Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Grim Accountant

I have said before that I object to the well-meaning work of Iraq Body Count, which purports to keep track of civilian deaths in Iraq from military intervention, by compiling information from news reports. The figures provided by IBC are taken as reality by the corporate media, and even by the person principally responsible for those deaths, who once said there had been about 30,000 of them, apparently based on the IBC data.

While purporting to create a record to challenge the conscience of the world, IBC is in fact reifying a gross undercount of the true toll of the Iraq war, and sanitizing a situation which is far worse than they make it appear. It is not only that a large proportion of deaths in Iraq from bombings, shootings, and other violent trauma do not become the subject of news reports, although that is most certainly true. It is also that the vast majority of deaths caused by military intervention are not directly caused by explosives and projectiles at all.

UNICEF finds that one third of Iraqi children are now malnourished and underweight. Excerpt from the UN News Service report:

One in three Iraqi children is malnourished and underweight, according to a report released by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Amman on 2 May.

"Under-nutrition should not be accepted in a country like Iraq, with its wealth of resources," said UNICEF Special Representative for Iraq Roger Wright from the Jordanian capital, Amman. Wright added that ongoing insecurity served to deter parents from visiting health centres for essential services, while many health workers had been kidnapped or killed in different parts of the country.

According to the report, a full 25 percent of Iraqi children between six months and five years old suffer from either acute or chronic malnutrition. A 2004 Living Conditions Survey indicated a decrease in mortality rates among children under five years old since 1999. However, the results of a September 2005 Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis – commissioned by Iraq's Central Organisation for Statistics and Information Technology, the World Food Programme and UNICEF – showed worsening conditions since the April 2003 US-led invasion of the country.

The problem is particularly dire in the south, especially in the provinces of Basra, Diala, Najaf, Qadissiyah, Salahuddin and Wasit, due primarily to a lack of health funding. Health ministry officials acknowledge that the public health situation remains below international standards, but expressed hope that the recently formed government in Baghdad would provide more funding.

It is impossible to say how many children have died already as a result of this situation, but it is almost certainly more than 30,000. The situation is much worse than that, however, because people who survive chronic malnutrition as children will grow up to be unhealthy, and can expect reduced intellectual ability, weaker immune systems, and short lives. Other reports have shown how deteriorating health care, contaminated water, and other poor conditions are causing an increase in mortality at all ages. War is stealing the future of Iraq. I would like for Iraq Body Count to please go out of business, or else fundamentally change its methodology and the message it conveys.

1 comment:

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