Humanitarian Crisis

Humanitarian Crisis

While those monitoring activities were taking place, ostensibly to force the dismantlement and destruction of Iraqi WMDs, and as U.S. air surveillance became more acute, fi ring on Iraqi targets at will, the world slowly learned of the catastrophic consequences of the imposition of sanctions on Iraq. A series of detailed UN reports—chiefl y conducted by food and agricultural organizations such as the FAO World Food Program (WFP) and humanitarian agencies such as the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and World Health Organization (WHO)—investigated the state of nutrition and health in postwar Iraq. The results were sobering. According to Peter L. Pellett,

[T]he Security Council’s decision to maintain sanctions despite the destruction of Iraq’s civilian infrastructure during the Gulf war and the inability, until 1996, of Iraq and the council to agree on humanitarian exceptions, led to a sharp increase in hunger, disease and death throughout Iraqi society, especially among women, children, and the elderly. The population of Iraq, which formerly enjoyed some services comparable to those in the West, has suffered terrible hardship because of the sanctions. In effect, the population moved from the edge of first-world status to poor, third-world status with staggering speed (Pellett in Arnove 2000, 185–186).

The UN reports were complemented by other groups such as the Harvard Study Team (later renamed the Center for Economic and Social Rights, CESR), one of the most comprehensive sources for the gradually worsening conditions in Iraq. Launching the fi rst investigation of postwar conditions in the country, the CESR sent a team to Iraq in April 1991, one month after the war. Its subsequent international mission in September 1991 employed 87 experts and thoroughly assessed the socioeconomic conditions on the ground, noting the deteriorating conditions of health and welfare in Iraq. The CESR observed:

[T]he economic and social disruption caused by the Gulf Crisis has had a direct impact on the health conditions of the children in Iraq. Iraq desperately needs not only food and medicine but also spare parts to repair basic infrastructure in electrical power generation, water purification and sewage treatment. Unless Iraq quickly obtains food, medicine and spare parts, millions of Iraqis will continue to experience malnutrition and disease. Children by the tens of thousands will remain in jeopardy. Thousands will die (CESR 1991, n.p.).

The clincher came in CESR’s statement, “[B]ased on these interviews, it is estimated that the mortality rates of children under fi ve is 380% greater today than before the onset of the Gulf Crisis.” Moreover, in an omen of things to come, CESR noted that due to lack of spare parts and equipment that was nearing obsolescence, electricity generation had fallen dramatically, while again because of the lack of spare parts and the fact that sanctions had severely cut off the importation of chlorine, the operational capacity of water treatment plants had been considerably degraded. This resulted in “a profoundly negative impact on public health, water and wastewater systems, agricultural production and industrial capacity” (CESR 1991, n.p.).

Throughout the 1990s, CESR survey teams, along with UN agencies and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), chronicled the growing calamity in Iraq. Partly because of the outcry over the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq, the United Nations came under pressure to modify the sanctions. Under the oil-for-food agreement, which Iraq fi nally agreed to in 1996, the Iraqi government was initially allowed to sell $2 billion worth of oil every six months to buy supplies for its people; however, the crisis continued.

In 1996, the CESR published its most forceful report yet, recommending that the UN Security Council “modify the oil-for-food deal to remove the limits on oil revenues for humanitarian needs . . . adopt alternatives to comprehensive sanctions on Iraq and in future cases [and] establish a clear legal framework to govern Security Council sanctions” (CESR 1996, n.p.).

The CESR was also the fi rst organization to arrive at the fi gure, later developed in more detail by UNICEF, that “if the substantial reduction in child mortality throughout Iraq during the 1980s had continued throughout the 1990s, there would have been half a million fewer deaths of children under fi ve in the country as a whole during the eight year period 1991 to 1998” (Information Newsline 1999).

Meanwhile, the Security Council’s own humanitarian panel concluded that a steep degradation of living standards had taken place in Iraq, affecting health, the distribution of food, the expansion of infrastructure, and the growth in education. “[I]nfant mortality rates in Iraq were among the highest in the world, low infant birth weight affected at least 23% of all births, chronic malnutrition affected every fourth child under fi ve and only 41% of the population had regular access to clean water” (Global Policy Forum 2002, n.p.).

In 1998, the limit set in 1996 for the oil-for-food program was raised to $5.2 billion and fi nally removed altogether in 1999. However, the heavy restrictions that had been placed on the distribution of oil revenues, including the proviso that 30 percent would be paid into the UN Compensation Fund, remained in place even as the UN lifted the cap on Iraq’s oil exports.