Share | Email a Friend

For Want of a Spare Part

Peace & Freedom, the Magazine of the Women's International League for Peace & Freedom
Published April-June, 1996

The adage "For want of a nail the shoe is lost, for want of a shoe the horse is lost, for want of a horse the rider is lost" could well describe the effects of the almost six-year-old sanctions on Iraq: for want of a spare part the child is lost. Since 1991, between the effects of the Gulf War and sanctions, over 200,000 Iraqi children under five have died of preventable causes.

A special UNICEF report drafted three years ago by Canadian doctor Eric Hoskins documents how for want of spare parts, only 18 out of 152 garbage trucks were working at the time in Iraq’s three northern governates. With the whole country’s "solid waste collection and disposal system operating at less than 25 percent of pre-war capacity," Hoskins observed disease-breeding solid waste piled up in residential neighborhoods. With sanctions unchanged, these deplorable conditions can have only worsened.

The shortage of spare parts for water supply systems as well as chemicals for water purification kept Iraq’s water production at half of its pre-war level. Hoskins reports that the water is contaminated because only 25 out of 135 sewage pumps were working in Basra. Raw sewage was discharged directly into the Tigris, the main source of drinking water, and sewage backed up into putrid lakes in residential neighborhoods. Consequently, where there were 1,819 cases of typhoid fever in Iraq in 1989, there were 24,436 cases in 1994. The most recent report (1995) by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that 42 percent of Iraq’s population of 20.7 million is less than 14 years old. Mainly urban (71 percent), before the Gulf War Iraq imported 70 percent of its food.

With its economy based on oil production, the war and sanctions have created 70 percent unemployment, so that most Iraqi families have no money to buy medicine or food whose prices have skyrocketed. In Iraq in August 1995, the price of wheat flour, for example, was 11,667 times higher than it was in July 1990. The 1995 FAO report concludes that "malnutrition is widespread affecting nearly all social groups through (Iraq) with as many as 12 percent of children surveyed in Baghdad wasted and 28 percent stunted." The FAO put the cost of importing the basic food Iraq needed in 1995/96 at $2.7 billion.

The U.N. Security Council has offered to let Iraq sell $1 billion worth of oil every 90 days to buy food and medicine, an offer which Iraq is still negotiating because it feels the conditions of the sale infringe on its sovereignty. With all the deductions from the sale the Security Council has earmarked--$150 million for separate relief to the Kurds, $100 million to cover the expenses of the UN weapons inspection program, and $300 million as an installment towards the $180-190 billion claimants are seeking from the U.N. Compensation Fund for reparations—Iraq would be left with less than $10 per Iraqi per month for food and medicine, hardly enough to rescue children from disease and starvation.

Readers are free to print out articles or letters for personal use and to quote or paraphrase them in other work as long as fair use of the material is given proper credit. See the Chicago-Style Citation Quick Guide at for forms of attribution.