War Still Pounds Iraqis the Conflict's Effects Remain: Public Health Problems, Environmental Hazards, Destruction of Water Supplies, and Reduced Crop Yields

Article excerpt

IT'S well over a year since Operation Desert Storm ceased. Iraq is no longer in the spotlight and for good reason. A number of the parties involved in the war are anxious to put its conflict behind them. Baghdad - the barometer for the Western media - appears to be rapidly recovering. A return to "normalcy" is within sight.

Yet there is much more work to be done to alleviate the human suffering and environmental damage in the region. The Gulf war and the stiff United Nations embargo that followed have pushed Iraq - once a rapidly developing nation - back by decades.

Studies conducted by international missions indicate that the public health crisis in Iraq continues. The most comprehensive examination to date, by the International Study Team (the second Harvard Study Team), documents that over 70,000 children under the age of five died in 1991 because of the effects of the Gulf war and sanctions.

Subsequent studies indicate that nearly 30,000 children have died in the first four months of 1992. The main cause of death is malnutrition and dehydration. Infant mortality has risen 310 percent compared to pre-Gulf war Iraq.

Foreign physicians visiting Iraq are frustrated by the number of children dying from previously minor ailments like flu or diarrhea. Now as temperatures rise with the arrival of summer, the problem will get worse. In southern Iraq, doctors are bracing for an increase in cholera and typhoid fever.

The ability of UN relief agencies and nongovernmental organizations to coordinate restoration projects or distribute food and medicine in Iraq is shaky. Given the tensions between Iraq and the United States-led coalition, relief groups are forced to pirouette around the sanctions issue.

The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) was scheduled to have pulled most of its several hundred staffers out of northern Iraq by the end of May. Their mandate now goes to the already overworked UNICEF staff in Iraq.

While the UNHCR recedes from the north, questions arise about who will fill the role as the buffer between the Kurds and Saddam Hussein's military. No one seems to have an answer.

Military historians are likely to remember the Gulf war as a modern day blitzkrieg, a triumph of "smart bombs" and other high-tech wizardry. While the fighting was brought to a swift conclusion, however, the onslaught against the environment and human health continues.

A recent report by the GAO on US weapon efficacy in the Gulf war estimates that 70 percent of the conventional bombs dropped missed their targets; 20 percent of the 88,500 tons of bombs dropped on Iraq didn't explode.

Iraq's electrical system, the backbone of the country, was thoroughly bombed. …