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War Against Disease, Hunger Continues for Iraqis, Especially Children, Church World Service Representative Reports Following Baghdad Visit

If health situation doesn't improve soon, more children under five could die, say humanitarian agencies

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BAGHDAD, IRAQ - 5/9/03 - Following a week-long assessment visit to Baghdad, the global humanitarian agency Church World Service (CWS) is reporting that while "major combat operations" in Iraq have ended, the war against disease and hunger continues for the Iraqi people - especially Iraq’s children.

Amman, Jordan-based CWS Emergency Response Consultant Steve Weaver reported a high incidence of diarrhea among children, overcrowding in hospitals and clinics, and a general lack of sources of protein. "According to UNICEF," Weaver said, "ninety percent of children coming to Baghdad’s Central Child Hospital have diarrhea. " Weaver spent April 23-May 5 in Baghdad.

"Baghdad Central Child Hospital is receiving 2,000 patients a day," said Jonathan Frerichs of Lutheran World Relief, who traveled with Weaver. The hospital has so far had to bury 100 people in its garden, he said.

One pediatric hospital they visited saw its patient load increase from 40 to 140 in just 10 days, Weaver reported. Even before the war, UNICEF reported that the average Iraqi child suffered 14 episodes of diarrhea per year.

"The best passport for travel to deprived areas is anti-diarrhea medicines, or other cures for the age-old plagues that take high tolls on human life," said Frerichs, also press officer for Action By Churches Together (ACT).

"We saw beds shared by two or three children, with their mothers alongside. Many women had babies. Many patients were on cots or blankets on the ground, overcrowded and making do," Weaver related. "That hospital needs 50 beds with sheets and blankets immediately."

To help meet those needs, Church World Service and its partner agencies announce they are providing $75,000 additional in their ongoing $1 million All Our Children Campaign, funding medicines and medical supplies for pediatric hospitals in Baghdad. CWS is a founding member of the multi-agency All Our Children Campaign, established before the war to benefit the severe and longstanding health crisis among Iraq’s children.

According to UN and other sources, between 500,000 to 1 million children have died in Iraq since 1991. The death rate of children under 5 is reported as 2.5 times greater than in 1990.

 Since December 2002, the All Our Children Campaign already has provided $264,000 in medicine, medical equipment and supplies to pediatric hospitals and clinics. 

New $75,000 Project for Baghdad’s Institutionalized, Street Children and Orphans

The latest All Our Children allocation funds a fourth and fifth project in the campaign, totaling nearly $75,000, with both projects designated to benefit street children, orphans and other institutionalized children, and those separated from their families by the war - among the most vulnerable of the country’s population.

One $60,000 project, being administered in Baghdad by German-based NGO Architects for People In Need-Iraq (AFP), will supply badly needed medical examination tables, instrument tables, refrigerators for medicine storage, supplies such as syringes, eye drops, bandages and surgical gloves, and numerous types of medicines.

The All Our Children contribution will fund fully one fourth of APN’s medical care project. The funds will assist 9,100 children in the APN program’s first phase, aimed at identifying and treating children with chronic and untreated medical conditions.

Clinics that are being reactivated include Habibiya 1, Habibiya, Al Safaa 1 and New Baghdad. "The APN clinics are seeing hundreds and hundreds of patients a day," CWS’ Weaver reported. "They are overflowing with patients coming for medical care. They are seeing a tremendous amount of dysentery and other water-borne illnesses."

Another $15,000 project, to be administered by NGO Enfants du Monde (EMDH) in Baghdad, will address similar needs and will attempt to identify and register children separated from their families, aiming to reunite children with their families as fast as possible.

"President Bush says the United States will see the war on terrorism to the end," commented Church World Service Executive Director the Rev. John L. McCullough, New York City. "We also have to see our humanitarian responsibilities to the end. The war against hunger and disease continues for the Iraqi people."

U.S. and aid officials agree that currently there is no "humanitarian crisis" in Iraq, "which means people are not on the verge of death," said CWS Emergency Response Director Rick Augsburger, New York City. "But there is severe humanitarian need that, if not met quickly, could result in a higher mortality rate for children and others who are vulnerable."

CWS’ Weaver says chronic diseases being reported among children in Baghdad include diarrhea and vomiting, believed caused by dysentery and amoebic dysentery, typhoid, epilepsy, iron deficiency, anemia, skin diseases including scabies, chicken pox, measles, and burns by benzene or gas.

From the Baghdad assessment team, Frerichs reported that, "beyond the imposing monuments of Baghdad’s remaining skyline, lie the unauthorized, hidden showcases of poverty newly accessible on the outskirts of town." There, Frerichs described, are the millions who live in and around Saddam City-mostly Shiites who migrated from the south and who were marginalized by the previous regime.

In one of those communities, the community of Hai El Mahdi, the assessment team reports that they saw mothers whose infants did not hold up their heads and other signs of severe malnutrition. "One of the first people you meet," Frerichs recalled, "is a child standing with a bandaged foot on a large piece of dung."

CWS’ Weaver and his colleagues have visited a number of health care facilities in Baghdad, and report that, while health care workers are doing what they can to provide services and return to work, chaos remains in the city.

One psychiatric hospital the team visited was "looted down to the light switches, wires, and windows, with the patients still there," Weaver reported.

Weaver also noted that, across all populations, while there appeared to be plenty of flour, noodles, and rice, "There is a lack of protein."

Weaver and Frerichs were accompanied during the Baghdad assessment by Menno Weibe, Mennonite Central Committee, Amman, Jordan and Edward Miller, Mennonite Central Committee. Weaver subsequently flew to the United States May 6 for a brief home leave.

NGO partners in the All Our Children Campaign include CWS, Jubilee Partners, the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), the National Council of Churches [USA] (NCC), Oxfam America, Sojourners, and Stop Hunger Now.

Church World Service’s participation in the All Our Children Campaign continues the international agency’s decade-plus commitment to assisting the ongoing needs of the Iraqi people. CWS has provided more than $3.8 million since 1991 for UN-sanctioned humanitarian assistance in Iraq.

As part of its own $1.5 million appeal for the Iraqi people, launched prior to the war’s outbreak, CWS has already sent a $110,000 grant to its on the ground partner the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC). 4,000 CWS blankets are scheduled for shipment into Iraq this week.

During Iraq’s reconstruction and rehabilitation, CWS will continue to focus on health needs, especially those of children, women, the elderly and low-income people with inadequate access to health care.

CWS Executive Director John L. McCullough says that "because of CWS’ local partners and church relationships, we are able to continue providing assistance within Iraq regardless of conditions in the country."

McCullough adds that the agency can also "serve in an independent and impartial manner, because CWS chose not to be part of humanitarian assistance that was part of an effort organized or coordinated by the U.S. military. Fortunately," he adds, "the local partners we work with are also able to administer to the community independently from the U.S. military."

Church World Service is a global humanitarian agency of 36 member denominations, working with local organizations in more than 80 countries to support sustainable self-help and development, meet emergency needs, aid refugees and address the root causes of poverty and powerlessness.


To make a donation for Iraq-related humanitarian aid, contact:
Church World Service Iraq Humanitarian Response,
Post Office Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515;
phone: (800) 297-1516;

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