1998 NCC News Archives

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CWS Delivers Medicines to Iraqi Children's Hospitals
Church Leaders, in Baghdad April 8-13, Witness Two Infant Deaths,
Renew Call to End Non-Military Economic Sanctions Against Iraq

   Who We Are

CWS works in more than 70 countries, including the U.S., in disaster relief, human development and refugee assistance. It is a ministry of the National Council of Churches, the nation's preeminent ecumenical organization which includes 34 Protestant and Orthodox member communions with a combined membership of 52 million.

How to Help

Those wishing to offer humanitarian assistance for Iraqis may do so through: CHURCH WORLD SERVICE, Attn. Iraq Emergency Relief #976801, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515. Phone pledges or credit card donations: 1-800-762-0968.

NEW YORK, April 16, 1998 -- "I have seen people living under all sorts of difficult conditions all over the world, but I have never before seen death stare at me in the eyes of a little baby." It happened, said the Rev. Rodney Page of Church World Service, while he and several colleagues were visiting a children’s hospital in Baghdad, Iraq, just before Easter.

Dr. Page, CWS Executive Director, was in Iraq April 8-13 to deliver medicines valued at nearly $100,000 to two children’s hospitals. Along with leaders of the American Friends Service Committee, Lutheran World Relief and Middle East Council of Churches, he witnessed the impact of eight years of United Nations-imposed sanctions, which have deprived the Iraqi people of essential food, medicine and other goods.

The sanctions were imposed by the U.N. Security Council after Iraq invaded and occupied Kuwait in August 1990. The Security Council resolutions stipulated that the sanctions should remain in place until it has been certified that Iraq has eliminated its weapons of mass destruction.

Group members already knew the shocking statistics of suffering. More than 1.2 million Iraqis, half of them under the age of five, have died since 1990 as a direct result of the sanctions, and 6,000 more die every month.

Those statistics became wrenchingly personal just moments after the delegation arrived at Ibn Biladi Hospital. As the group entered a ward and began to visit the sick children and their parents, a months-old baby girl died before their eyes. The malnourished daughter of a malnourished mother, she succumbed to a chest infection that could have been cured with ordinary antibiotics – had they been available in time.

"A member of our group, Kara Newell, Executive Director of the American Friends Service Committee, threw her arms around the baby’s mother and they wept together," Dr. Page said. A few minutes later, in another ward, the group saw another baby take its last breaths.

Just at the moment when Christians, Jews and Muslims around the world were celebrating festivals of joy and life, the visiting church leaders were faced with death. Mothers pressed prescriptions into Dr. Page’s hand, pleading for medicine – and milk – for their children.

Group member Kenlynn Schroedcr of Lutheran World Relief, recounted how "Suzi, an Armenian Orthodox woman and a mother like me, spoke of the depression the parents have because they cannot provide enough food for their families. They are either unemployed or must work for two or three U.S. dollars a month, which is not enough. She asked, ‘How long will the sanctions continue to punish the Iraqi people?"

The church leaders carried back with them many other images of misery: The makeshift children’s hospital in a converted hotel, its roof so full of holes that when it rains, the water pours in onto the beds. A woman doing her best to clean a hospital floor with a dirty mop and no disinfectants. Leaking, pooling, stinking sewage, breeding grounds for water-borne diseases.

The widespread misery and despair strengthened the resolve of Dr. Page and the others to continue to press for an end to the economic, non-military sanctions against Iraq, "which are hurting the most vulnerable of the Iraqi citizens," Dr. Page said. "It’s not the politicians who are suffering, but the children, the women, the poor, the sick, the elderly."

Iraq may purchase food and medicine under its "oil for food" deal with the United Nations – but the U.N.’s delivery of supplies has lagged considerably, reported David M. Weaver, CWS Middle East Director who took part in the visit. "But even if Iraqis received the maximum allowed under the program, the food supplies would be barely adequate and the medical supplies wholly inadequate to the need."

"Most people are beginning to get almost enough rice, flour, sugar, cooking oil and pulses, like lentils, but they still are deficient in animal protein, which is very important for immune response. Many children suffer wasting or stunting. Calcium, protein and vitamin deficiencies are widespread. "Therefore people, especially children, are vulnerable to infections and will bear the consequences of these deprivations into adulthood," Mr. Weaver said.

CWS has delivered nearly $3 million in humanitarian aid to Iraq since 1991 and currently is seeking another $426,000 toward a goal of $2.2 million set by Action by Churches Together (ACT), an international, ecumenical consortium of which CWS is a member. CWS/ACT work closely with the Middle East Council of Churches, which distributes the aid.

(Church World Service is the humanitarian assistance ministry of the National Council of Churches, whose 34 Protestant and Orthodox member denominations have nearly 52 million members. Contributions may be directed to CWS, Attn: Iraq Appeal, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515. Phone pledges or credit card donations: 1-800-762-0968.)

Over and over again, Iraqis thanked the visiting church leaders for their assistance, confirming, "Your efforts have saved many lives." The group members from Church World Service also found it gratifying to see blankets from the CWS Blanket Program on almost every hospital bed, and on beds in orphanages and other institutions that they visited.

"CWS has provided enough blankets to cover every hospital bed in Iraq, Dr. Page said. "We want to blanket the world with love."

During their six days in Iraq, the church leaders met with Christian and Muslim religious leaders, humanitarian aid workers and government ministers of health, education and religious affairs, and visited Christian and Muslim holy sites.

They observed Maundy Thursday in an Armenian Apostolic Church, where Dr. Page assisted the bishop in the foot-washing ceremony, which recalls that at the Last Supper, Jesus washed his disciples feet as a lesson in the importance of serving others.

And they marked Good Friday at St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church, met with the Archbishop of the Syrian Orthodox Church and celebrated Easter at the Evangelical Church of Baghdad (Presbyterian).

"We were moved by the kindness, generosity and hospitality of the Iraqi people," commented Dr. Page, "and by the dignity, graciousness and professionalism of the doctors, ministers and others we met.

"We know we encouraged people with our visit. In an art shop, artists spotted us and said, ‘We saw you on TV. You brought the medicines. The story of our visit was all over the TV, radio and newspapers. It made quite a stir to know that churches in America were trying to do something about the sanctions."

Said Ms. Schroeder, LWR’s Director of Grants, Emergencies and Material Resources: "We remember the great commandment, ‘Love the Lord your God’ and the second like it, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ We, mothers and fathers in the U.S. cannot stand by and watch Iraqi children die needlessly because of the sanctions. Enough is enough."

Kara Newell of the American Friends Service Committee put it this way: "As a Quaker organization, the AFSC is committed to peace and justice. What I have seen, heard and felt in Baghdad is that a strong, creative and highly educated people have had an injustice perpetrated on them for the past eight years. We stand with the Iraqi people, especially the women, children and elderly. We will do everything in our power to pressure the lifting of non-military sanctions and to work with partners to see desperately needed medical supplies find their way to the Iraqi people."



Note: Other group members were Rick Augsburger, CWS Emergency Response Office Director; Mel Lehman, CWS Constituency Information and Development Director; Riad Jarjour, General Secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches, and Mike Nahhal, MECC Relief Coordinator.

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