Intended for healthcare professionals


Iraq sanctions lead to half a million child deaths

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: (Published 09 December 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:1523

Economic sanctions imposed on Iraq since the ending of the Gulf war have been responsible for the deaths of more than half a million children, according to a new study. The study also shows that severe malnutrition is widespread among children in the capital city of Baghdad.

The study, by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, is published as a letter in the Lancet (2 December, p 1485). It concludes that the deaths of more than 560000 children can be attributed to the UN's sanctions. It also says that the death rate among children under the age of 5 in Baghdad has increased fivefold since the war ended in 1991.

Dr Mary Smith Fawzi, who is a researcher at Harvard School of Public Health and helped to conduct the study, says that 560000 is probably an underestimate. She says that the political deadlock between Iraq's leaders and the UN's security council, which has prevented any lifting of the sanctions, is to blame. “The Iraqi population is caught in between and they are starving as a result,” Dr Fawzi said. The study concludes that the number of child deaths challenges “the moral, financial, and political standing of an international community intent on maintaining economic sanctions.”

The study reports that in August 1991, one year after sanctions began, 3% of children under 5 in Baghdad showed signs of severe malnutrition. Today, that figure has risen fourfold, to 12%.

Overall, the economic and social conditions in Iraq remain at a level that does little for the nation's health. The study reports: “Food prices are high, purchasing power is low, water and sanitation systems have deteriorated, hospitals are functioning at 40% capacity, and the population is largely sustained by government rations which provide 1000 kcal (4.2 MJ) per person per day.”—CLAUDIA COURT, BMJ

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