Socialist Worker

Occupation and neoliberalism results in more child deaths

by Matthew Cookson
Issue No. 2051

Sixteen years of US and British intervention in Iraq has resulted in a 150 percent increase in Iraq’s child mortality rate.

This is the only conclusion that can be reached after the release of a new Save the Children report on the state of the world’s mothers and children.

Iraq has seen the biggest rise of child mortality of any country. The 1991 US-led attack, followed by years of harsh sanctions and the 2003 invasion have wreaked a terrible effect on Iraq’s infrastructure and the health of its people.

Iraq has declined dramatically from having a good record for child mortality rates to having a similar rate as countries such as Uganda, Haiti, Malawi and Mauritania.

“Iraq’s child mortality rate has increased by a staggering 150 percent since 1990, more than any other country,” says the report.

“Even before the latest war, Iraqi mothers and children were facing a grave humanitarian crisis caused by years of repression, conflict and external sanctions. Since 2003, electricity shortages, insufficient clean water and deteriorating health services have worsened already difficult living conditions.

“Some 122,000 Iraqi children (one in eight) died in 2005 before reaching their fifth birthday.”

The mortality rate of under-fives has increased from 50 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 125 per 1,000 live births in 2005. Over half of these deaths were among newborn babies less than a month old.


“Pneumonia and diarrhoea are two major killers of children in Iraq, together accounting for over 30 percent of child deaths,” the report continues.

“Only 35 percent of Iraqi children are fully immunised, and more than one fifth (21 percent) are severely or moderately stunted.

“Conservative estimates place increases in infant mortality following the 2003 invasion of Iraq at 37 percent.”

The report only goes up to 2005. With the continuing chaos and violence unleashed by the occupation it can only be presumed that the child mortality rate has increased.

It’s not only Iraq that has seen things get worse for its children, but Afghanistan too – another state devastated by foreign intervention.

Some 257 children out of every 1,000 live births in Afghanistan die. This is the third worst infant mortality rate in the world. More than one in four children in Afghanistan will die before reaching their fifth birthday.

In Afghanistan 40 percent of children are malnourished. More than half of children lack access to safe water. Every mother is likely to lose two children, while one in six women die in childbirth.

According to the report, while one child in 100,000 in the US dies of pneumonia each year, roughly one in 15 dies of the disease in Afghanistan.

Despite all the pledges from the G8 richest countries many poorer nations’ under-fives mortality rates are getting worse. Around 28,000 children under five die each day.

“In the past 15 years,” the report says, “20 out of 60 developing countries where the vast majority of these deaths occur have either made no progress in reducing under five mortality or their rates have worsened.”

Over ten million children die across the world each year before reaching their fifth birthday.

In 1990, the child mortality rate for sub-Saharan Africa was 20 times higher than for the industrialised countries. By 2005, the rate was 28 times as high.

In Botswana, a country lauded by the International Monetary Fund for a “market-friendly environment”, the child mortality rate has more than doubled. The report says it has increased “by an alarming 107 percent in the past 15 years – from 58 per 1,000 births in 1990 to 120 per 1,000 in 2005.”

Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Cambodia have all seen an increase in death rates among children.

Despite South Africa and Equatorial Guinea’s high gross national income and economic growth compared to other countries, both have seen an increase in death rates among children.

The growth of social inequality is impacting on infant mortality. The study says, “Eliminating health care inequities – and bringing mortality rates among the poorest 80 percent of the population down to those prevailing among the richest 20 percent – would prevent about four million of the ten million deaths each year.”


But it’s not just in the Third World that economic inequalities have a devastating impact. The US, the richest country in the world, has only the joint 26th place, out of 44 developed countries for child mortality rates.

In the US, “American-Indian children aged between one and four have the highest death rates (49 per 100,000), followed by African-American children (46 per 100,000), Hispanic children (29 per 100,000)”.

The report confirms that the policies of war and neoliberalism are bringing disaster to the world’s people.

We can only change this by taking the resources and wealth from the hands of our rulers and using them for the benefit of all.

For more on the report go to

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Tue 15 May 2007, 18:31 BST
Issue No. 2051
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