Child Victims of War (August 2004) – 2004-09-09 08:15:46
The daily problems for ordinary people in Iraq are legion and the situation is going from bad to worse. Our first week we spent with Iraqi friends in Basrah. The hospitality was incredible and we had a personal insight into the struggles of people trying to cope with daily living.
Everyday our friends had to drive in their old car (1978) to fetch water. The electricity supply there was completely haphazard. They told us that just before we arrived, they had had no electricity for 9 days!
Everyone is struggling. Employment in Iraq is virtually non-existent and prices are rising. The occupiers offer jobs with the security forces – or, if you are a woman, in one of their many brothels — but this puts you on the wrong ‘side’ and can be very hazardous.
Crime and kidnappings are rampant and a major source of distress is the constant feeling of insecurity. Driving through Baghdad at 11pm is now like entering a ghost city.
American and British tanks still patrol the streets and helicopters fly regularly just above the rooftops. Moving around Baghdad is becoming increasingly difficult as so many roads and bridges are now blocked. Every building you enter, you are frisked and searched
Sadr City: The Gaza of Baghdad
One visit with the Iraqi Red Crescent took us into the heart of Sadr City, formerly Saddam city. It is the Gaza of Baghdad, a slum for around 3 million of Baghdad’s poorest people.
Not only are the residents of Sadr City trying to cope with dire poverty and a complete collapse of infrastructure, they find themselves at war with the world’s mightiest army. Men and young ragged boys, armed with rocket launchers, stand on street corners amidst the rotting garbage and pools of sewage, while US snipers hold their positions on the high rooftops at the city’s edge.
We were taken to the Ali Bin bi Talib Hospital. The director has moved himself and his family into the hospital itself so he had been constantly on call. Conditions are desperate with antiquated equipment, some of it dating back to the 1950s and 60s, and lack of medicine. The intensive care unit was empty, the injured fighters of the previous day having ‘escaped’ the hospital, in fear of arrest. Many are too afraid of the Americans to even seek medical help.
The children’s ward was filled with dehydrated babies suffering from the appalling water. Water-borne diseases including hepatitis and typhoid are endemic. One sees in people’s faces here a terrible sadness and desperation. They were oppressed by Saddam and are now oppressed by the new US driven administration. One man said to us, “Before the occupation, we had 40% hope, now we have 0%”.
It is not surprising that resistance against the occupation is growing. People were greatly affected by the massacres in Negev and the bombing of Fallujah and Sadr City is an almost daily event. The hospitals cannot cope with the injuries and there is a serious shortage of saline and blood for transfusion.
During our visit to Basrah, we made strong connections with the Basrah Children’s Hospital. Many children there are dying of cancer and leukaemia, but the hospital lacks even the most basic equipment. They begged us particularly to raise money to buy a platelet machine to separate the red and white blood cells. This will benefit children suffering from both leukaemia and thallasemia. Dr Jawad Al-Ali from Basrah teaching hospital, emphasised that Basrah desperately needs a functioning oncology centre, which could provide bone marrow transplant among other things.
We spoke to an environmental scientist who has been locating depleted uranium sites in the city. He is shocked that he has already found 26 sites within a relatively small area. Houses have been hit as well as Iraqi tanks and troop carriers. We met a family forced to live in their highly radioactive house, which was hit in March 2003.
Two of the children are suffering from skin and breathing problems and another has deteriorating night vision. Two sons were killed in the bombing and a young cousin has a burn on his leg, which is refusing to heal. Children play in and around two burnt our troop carriers still left in the street. Although notified, the British military and WHO have refused to respond.
An excellent documentary film has been made on the recent findings of DU in Iraq. It is called “The Doctor, Depleted Uranium and the Sick Children”. It is available from Traprock Peace Center www.traprockpeace.org for $25.
Dr Abdul-Haq Al-Ani was able to visit Fallujah and spoke to an orthopaedic surgeon at Fallujah Hospital. There is currently neither physical nor psychological rehabilitation for children in Iraq and he stressed that any help would be very welcome. Dr Al-Ani also visited four young children who have been injured in the war and their case studies will be posted on our web site.
Any money we raise during the 7 days 4 Iraq week in November will go towards this project and details will be supplied. Children are in desperate need of prosthesis, mobility aids and physiotherapy as well as a centre, which provides them with psychological therapy including art and music therapy.
The organisers in London are working very hard to make this week a success. Events will be posted on www.stopwar.org.uk
The Naming of the Dead vigil is set for 2nd November. More information on this can be obtained from Ruth Boswell firstname.lastname@example.org
CVW had a meeting with UNICEF in Amman, Jordan, to discuss setting up an office to monitor the rights of the child in Iraq and provide human rights training and children’s advocacy. We hope this will have a positive outcome and that we will be operational in Baghdad within the next few months.
Photographer, Jenny Matthews, is producing as exhibition of photographs from our visit to Iraq and photographs and a short video clip will be posted on the web site.
For further information contact
Jo Baker at: Child Victims of War, 17 Anstey Street, Bristol BS5 6DG. Phone: 020 8567 4237/0117 902 6534