GENEVA -- The war in Iraq and its aftermath have almost doubled malnutrition rates among Iraqi children, a UN specialist on hunger has told the world's major human rights body.
Acute malnutrition rates among Iraqi children under five rose late last year to 7.7 per cent from four per cent after the ouster of President Saddam Hussein in April 2003, said Jean Ziegler, the UN Human Rights Commission's special expert on the right to food.
An Iraqi mother waits for treatment with her daughter, who is suffering from diarrhea, in the waiting room of the General Teaching Hospital for Children in Baghdad, Iraq, in this June 3, 2004 photo. Malnutrition among the youngest Iraqis has almost doubled since the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, a hunger specialist told the U.N. human rights body Wednesday March 30, 2005 in a summary of previously reported studies on health in Iraq. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)
Malnutrition, which is exacerbated by a lack of clean water and inadequate sanitation, is a major child-killer in poor countries. Children who manage to survive are usually physically and mentally impaired for the rest of their lives and more vulnerable to disease.
Acute malnutrition signifies a child is actually wasting away.
The situation facing Iraqi youngsters is "a result of the war led by coalition forces," said Ziegler, a Swiss sociology professor and former legislator whose previous targets have included Swiss banks, China, Brazil and Israeli treatment of Palestinians.
Overall, more than one-quarter of Iraqi children don't have enough to eat, Ziegler told a meeting of the 53-country commission, the top UN rights watchdog, which is halfway through its annual six-week session.
The U.S. delegation and other coalition countries did not respond to the report.
Ziegler's criticism Wednesday was in line with previous studies of the food crisis in Iraq since the U.S.-led war two years ago.
In November, the Norwegian-based Fafo Institute for Applied Social Science released a report that found malnutrition had reached 7.7 per cent among Iraqi children between the ages of six months and five years.
Officials from the institute, which conducted a survey with the UN Development Program and Iraq's Central office for Statistics and Information Technology, said the Iraqi malnutrition rate is similar to the level in some hard-hit African countries.
Late last year, Carol Bellamy, head of the UN children's agency UNICEF, said there was little relief workers could do to ease the plight of Iraqi children because fighting hampers or prevents most aid operations in the country. UNICEF officials were not immediately available to say if the situation had changed in recent months.
The insurgency has led to problems moving adequate supplies of food into hot spots, particularly in and around Sunni Muslim areas to the north and west of Baghdad.
Ziegler also cited an October 2004 U.S. study that estimated as many as 100,000 more Iraqis - many of them women and children - had died since the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq than would normally have died.
The authors of the report in the British medical journal the Lancet - researchers from Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University and the Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad - conceded their data were of "limited precision," because they depended on the accuracy of household interviews used for the study. The interviewers were Iraqi, most of them doctors.
© 2005 The Associated Press