UNICEF races to provide high-protein food to 400,000 Iraqi children

11 March 2003

With the threat of war looming over Iraq, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is racing to bolster the chances of survival for over 400,000 malnourished children across the country by providing high protein food.

With the threat of war looming over Iraq, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is racing to bolster the chances of survival for over 400,000 malnourished children across the country by providing high protein food.

“We are still hoping for a peaceful resolution to this crisis,” UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said. “But it’s a fact that the children of Iraq are extremely vulnerable. Their health, their nutrition, their access to safe water – all of which are weak already – will be further jeopardized in a war. By acting to reach them now, we hope to save lives in the weeks and months ahead.”

Working closely with the country’s Ministry of Health, UNICEF has trucked more than 1,000 tons of high-protein biscuits and 155 tons of therapeutic milk to feed children suffering from severe malnutrition – the major underlying cause of death among children under five.

The agency noted that child malnutrition in Iraq rose dramatically following the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The country has one of the highest rates of under-five mortality in the world, with more than one in eight children dying before they reach their fifth birthday.

“Today, almost a quarter of Iraqi children are born underweight, and a similar number under the age of five are malnourished,” said Carel de Rooy, the UNICEF Representative in Iraq. “That’s serious enough. But war adds displacement, interruption of food and water supplies, and outbreaks of disease. Combined, these events would strike a heavy blow to a population of children who are already struggling to survive.”

The UNICEF deliveries constitute the first shipments of high-protein biscuits and therapeutic milk into the country in two years and these supplies are sufficient for a month. In addition to its efforts to bolster children’s health and nutrition ahead of a possible conflict, the agency has shipped thousands of tons of relief supplies to the region and is preparing to mount a rapid emergency response should that be needed.

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today said it is asking governments to temporarily halt the forced return of rejected Iraqi asylum seekers for three months, given the tense situation and risk of armed conflict in Iraq.

“During this interim period, we're also advising governments that all Iraqis outside their homeland should be given appropriate complementary forms of protection,” spokesman Kris Janowski said in Geneva.

More than 51,000 Iraqis claimed asylum worldwide last year, forming by far the largest single group of asylum seekers in industrialized countries, ahead of 33,000 Yugoslavs. In all there are some 400,000 recognized Iraqi refugees worldwide, with more than half living in Iran. Hundreds of thousands of other Iraqis are believed to be living outside their home country, without claiming asylum, UNHCR said.

In other news, the UN office overseeing the humanitarian oil-for-food programme noted that Iraqi oil exports slipped to 10 million barrels for the week that ended on 7 March.

Exports averaged 1.4 million barrels a day, compared with 1.9 million the previous week, according to the Office of the Iraq Programme (OIP). The estimated revenue earned for the week was $287 million, with an average price of Iraqi crude for the reporting period of approximately $28.45 per barrel.

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