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The dire and impoverished state of Iraq

In a "message" to the Iraqi PM in "The Human Narrative in Iraq Still Missing" on CommonDreams, the writer Claudia Lefko reveals some startling and sobering facts about present-day Iraq.

"The country statistics are dire across the boards. In terms of education, Iraq was a awarded a UNESCO prize for eradicating illiteracy in 1982. In March 2003, a UNESCO Fact Sheet stated: The education system in Iraq prior to 1991 was one of the best in the region, with over 100% gross enrollment rate for primary schooling, and a high level of literacy, both of men and women. The Higher Education, especially the scientific and technological institutions, were of an international standard, staffed by high qualification personnel. By 2004 Iraq's literacy rate was 74% (UNESCO) and by 2007 Education International estimated the rate had fallen to 65% (54% women and 74% men) This should come as no surprise. 84% of higher institutes of education and schools were damaged and/or destroyed in the two wars(UNESCO). Lots of parents kept children home out of fear for their safety; many children left school to earn money to help support their families. Those who attended classes often sat in building without running water or heat or adequate supplies including books. Books and supplies such as pencils could not be imported under the UN Sanctions. As a result, everyone in this once literate culture has fallen behind.

And, the medical system has been in crisis for decades. Iraq had one of the best health-care systems in the Middle East before 1990; a system of primary, secondary and tertiary care facilities that provided free, good quality services (WHO 2003). This changed dramatically after 1990. Like schools, many hospitals were damaged and/or destroyed in the years of violence. They were understaffed and undersupplied; doctors could not keep up with advances in the medical field. Iraq lost as many as 50% of its doctors. Some fled the country; others were assassinated.

Overall health--especially the health of children and other vulnerable groups--declined after 1990. The Under 5 Mortality Rate (U5MR) which UNICEF cites as--"…the single most significant indicator of the state of a nation's children…" increased dramatically, from 50 to 130 deaths per thousand live births in the decade 1990-2000. Over those ten years, children improved in 143 countries, with declines in only 17. The country whose children experienced the greatest decline was Iraq, where the figure for "improvement" was -160% (negative 160%). The next greatest decline - 74%, was in Botswana which at the time had the world's highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection. (UNICEF) It was a perfect storm for disaster: a population with deteriorating health and a collapsing medical system.

Iraq's infrastructure, including electrical and water purification systems and dams were damaged and in some cases destroyed by the bombing of the first Gulf War. More damage was inflicted in 2003, and much of this is not back to pre-war capacity. Buildings and roads, communications systems are waiting to be repaired and/or rebuilt. It is an unending process given the ongoing lack of security in the country."

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