Socialist Worker

Catastrophe for a people

by Hazel Croft
Issue No. 1837

A POWERFUL open letter to Tony Blair recently appeared in two authoritative medical journals-the Lancet and the British Medical Journal. Some 500 staff, students and academics from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine had signed the letter, which urged Blair not to go to war.

The letter cited new reports which reveal the extent of the death, starvation, disease and suffering which will be the reality of any war on Iraq. One report is written by health professionals from the Medact organisation, Collateral Damage: The Health and Environmental Costs of War on Iraq.

Nobody can be certain what will happen in any war, but the report uses accumulated evidence from Iraq and previous wars the US has fought to calculate the immediate and long term consequences of a war. It argues that even a contained conflict against Iraq could cause between 48,000 and 260,000 deaths.

A short war would cause long term injuries, health problems and environmental damage that could result in the deaths of another 200,000 people.

'The aftermath could include civil war, famine and epidemics, millions of refugees and displaced people, catastrophic effects on children's health and development, economic collapse.'

The report examines the impact of the 1991 Gulf War and the punitive sanctions regime imposed on Iraq by the United Nations (UN). Medact argues that the US-led war against Iraq, fought under the name of the UN, 'wrought near apocalyptic results on the economic infrastructure of what had been a fairly highly urbanised and mechanised society'.

US bombing killed between 50,000 and 120,000 Iraqi soldiers, most of them conscripts. Between 3,500 and 15,000 civilians were killed, despite the claims by US and British leaders that 'smart bombs' were only hitting military targets. At least 300,000 Iraqi conscripts were injured.

Medact calculates that '110,000 Iraqi civilians died in 1991 from the health effects of the war, bringing the total number of Iraqis who died as a direct consequence of the Gulf War to around 205,000'. The war had a 'catastrophic impact' on Iraq's infrastructure, environment and people. It created 1.8 million refugees.

'The massive dislocation, squalid camps, malnutrition, harsh weather, inadequate shelter, lack of clean water and minimal healthcare led to many deaths. 'Infectious diseases were rife. By May 1991 between 15,000 and 30,000 refugees had died.' UN sanctions turned a dire situation into a disaster.

By the late 1990s some 55 percent of the Iraqi population lived in poverty and 20 percent in extreme poverty, lacking electricity, water, food, medicines and basic education.

By 2002 between 344,000 and 525,000 children had died as a direct result of sanctions. On top of this the US and Britain continued their bombing raids. 'Between 1991 and 1999 the US and UK flew more than 6,000 sorties, dropped over 1,800 bombs and hit more than 450 targets,' says the report.

Medact argues that this means a new war would be 'much more intense and destructive than the 1991 Gulf War. 'The mental and physical health of ordinary Iraqis is far worse than it was in 1991, making them much more vulnerable, and even less able to muster the resources needed for recovery and reconstruction.' The development of deadlier US weapons like 'bunker busters' will only increase the civilian casualties.

Medact estimates that the US will spend between $50 and $200 billion on inflicting this carnage on Iraq, and up to $20 billion annually on occupying the country.

Yet '$100 billion is enough to fund meeting the health needs of the world's poorest people for four years'. It concludes, 'Even a 'best case' scenario of a limited war of short duration, perhaps comparable to 1991, would have a much greater impact on the Iraqi people and would initially kill three times the number who died on September 11.'

Medact's findings are backed up by a leaked document produced by a UN body. Its 'strictly confidential' document headed 'Likely Humanitarian Scenarios' suggests that over three million people will suffer malnutrition if the war goes ahead. These reports graphically reveal the reality of war which lies behind Bush and Blair's rhetoric.

They are a powerful argument about why we must do everything we can to stop them.

Collateral Damage: The Health and Environmental Costs of War on Iraq is available at www.medact.org/tbx/pages/sub.cfm?idstation556

The internal UN document is available from the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq at www.casi.org.uk/info/undocs/war021210.pdf


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