MONTREAL - War in Iraq would have devastating effects on the country's 13 million children, many of whom are already malnourished and living in ''great fear'' of another conflict, says the report of a Canadian-led, fact-finding team released Thursday.
The document, based on a trip to Iraq Jan. 20-26 by 10 health experts, concludes that, ''Iraqi children are at grave risk of starvation, disease, death and psychological trauma''.
They ''are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of a new war than they were before the Gulf War of 1991'' but ''the international community has at present little capacity to respond to the harm that children will suffer by a new war in Iraq'', it adds.
The report's authors, the International Study Team, call themselves an ''independent group of expert academics, researchers and practitioners examining the humanitarian effects of military conflict on the civilian population''.
They include experts in health, nutrition, child psychology and emergency preparedness.
In 1991, they produced a report on the humanitarian impact of the Gulf War, based on 9,000 interviews in 300 locations in Iraq.
The team's backers include War Child Canada, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and its Canadian affiliate Physicians for Global Survival (PGS), Oxfam Canada, World Vision Canada and the United Church.
The team says it received no financial assistance from the Iraqi government during the trip.
The report's findings are based on data collected in three Iraqi cities - Baghdad, Karbala and Basra - interviews with more than 100 families in their homes and previous studies.
''While it is impossible to predict both the nature of any war and the number of expected deaths and injuries, casualties among children will be in the thousands, probably in the tens of thousands and possibly in the hundreds of thousands,'' Canadian team leader and medical doctor Eric Hoskins said in a statement.
The report says that Iraq currently has only one month's supply of food and three months of medicine remaining.
Titled 'Our Common Responsibility: The Impact of a New War on Iraq Children', the document presents findings on children's physical and mental well being as well as on emergency preparedness in the country.
Weakened by the effects of war and more than a decade of economic sanctions, 500,000 Iraqi children are malnourished, it says. For example, the death rate of children under five years of age is already 2.5 times greater than it was in 1990, before the Gulf War.
Because most of the country's 13 million children are dependent on food distributed by the Government of Iraq, ''the disruption of this system by war would have a devastating impact on children who already have a high rate of malnutrition'', says the report.
It adds that only 60 percent of Iraqis have access to fresh water. ''Further disruption to these services, as occurred during the 1991 Gulf War, would be catastrophic for Iraqi children.''
The team's two psychologists, Atle Dyregrov and Magne Raundalen, world leaders in the impact of war on children, carried out what the report calls the first-ever pre-war assessment of children's mental health.
''With war looming, Iraqi children are fearful, anxious and depressed,'' they found. ''Many have nightmares. And 40 percent do not think that life is worth living.''
The finding ''is powerful evidence that the concern for children's well-being needs to be considered in the decision making process about to take place in the United Nations Security Council'', says the report, which was released in Ottawa.
''As medical professionals, we call on all parties involved in the conflict with Iraq to insure the safety of children and all innocent civilians and to do everything humanly possible to resolve the conflict peacefully,'' said IPPNW spokesman John Pastore in a statement.
The report points out that the United Nations estimates that, in the event of war, as many as 500,000 Iraqis could require emergency medical treatment but that hospitals and clinics will run out of medicines within three to four weeks of the start of a conflict.
The report was also sent to the U.N. Security Council, the government of Iraq, and the Canadian government.
Copyright 2003 IPS