The oil-for-food program in Iraq has failed to protect the country’s children from malnutrition, which affects nearly a third of Iraqis under the age of five, a U.N. report says.
The report comes just days before U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is due to present the Security Council with sweeping recommendations for improving the program.
It compares children’s chances of dying from two common diseases, diarrhea and pneumonia, in 1996 with those in 1990, before the United Nations imposed economic sanctions to punish Iraq for its invasion of Kuwait.
An Iraqi child with diarrhea had a one-in-600 chance of dying in 1990, rising to one in 50 in 1996, the report said. For pneumonia, the odds grew from one in 60 to one in eight in 1996.
“It’s the children who are suffering most. The levels of malnutrition that we see are alarming,” Eric Falt, a spokesman for the oil-for-food program, said in an interview Sunday.
The oil-for-food program, begun in December 1996, allows Iraq to sell $2 billion in oil every six months to buy food, medicines and humanitarian goods for its 20 million people suffering under the sanctions, which include a ban on oil exports from Iraq.
U.N. officials have said $2 billion is inadequate to meet the Iraqis’ needs, and Annan is expected to outline ways to increase the aid.
Malnutrition is “a hidden emergency (that) has at last been exposed as affecting about 30 percent of children under 5,” said the report, released by the Baghdad office of UNICEF, the U.N. Children’s Fund.
The report also criticized a lack of planning and delays in delivering humanitarian goods to Iraq.
UNICEF officials insist the oil-forfood program is separate from Iraq’s dispute with the United Nations over arms inspections. But some have conceded privately that the disagreement could make it more difficult to increase aid to the country.