GENEVA — The United Nations children's agency said Tuesday it is racing against time to get crucial aid to malnourished Iraqi children before the likely start of war.
"It's a fact that the children of Iraq are extremely vulnerable," said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. "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."
In recent days, UNICEF has trucked in more than 1,000 metric tons (1,100 short tons) of high-protein biscuits, as well as special therapeutic milk, to help some 400,000 children and bolster their chances of survival in the event of a war.
The Iraqi government is delivering the aid to health centers across the country, UNICEF said. It is the first delivery of its kind in two years. The supplies are enough to last a month.
One child in eight in Iraq dies before the age of five — one of the highest rates in the world. Although levels of malnutrition have improved in recent years, almost a million children under five are affected.
Children represent half of Iraq's population of 24.5 million.
"Simply put, war hurts children the most," Bellamy said. "Children are the most vulnerable, physically and emotionally. Whatever else we feel about war, we have to recognize this fact."
UNICEF said that child malnutrition in Iraq rose dramatically after the 1991 Gulf War, because of damage to infrastructure, poor use of resources and international sanctions that have affected families' purchasing power and reduced the amount of meat in their diet.
Around 60 percent of Iraqi women suffer from iron deficiency, which contributes to the high number of children born underweight.
Malnourished children do not usually die from hunger but from other diseases that they are too weak to fight off, said Carel de Rooy, the UNICEF representative in Iraq.
"In this situation, when children are weak, diarrhea caused by bad water will kill," he said. "Tens of thousands of children are extremely vulnerable to any further deterioration in their health and nutrition status."
UNICEF said it also has shipped thousands of tons of relief supplies to the Gulf region and is preparing to provide emergency aid if it is needed.story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20030310/ap_wo_en_ge/un_gen_iraq_malnE-mail this article