I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If you occupy a country you also assume responsibility for its public health. That’s both international law and it’s the right thing to do. In Iraq we haven’t done that. So while I am about to say it once more, after I’ve said it I have something else to say, too, something that underscores my point in triplicate.
But first the main point:.
It is the kind of news that everybody had been dreading. An outbreak of cholera in Iraq, which started in two Northern provinces, has already reached Baghdad and has become Iraq’s biggest cholera outbreak in recent memory. “This frightening and dangerous situation,” as stated by Bahktiyar Ahmed, a UNICEF emergency health facilitator, serves to underscore the unrelenting threat to people already affected by a devastated health care system.
Statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that there have already been more than 3,300 cases of cholera in the country, and more than 33,000 cases of diarrhoea ? which could be a milder form of the disease. The cholera epidemic aggravates what is, under any measure, a most serious humanitarian and public health emergency.
According to Jeremy Hobbs, director of Oxfam International, “The terrible violence in Iraq has masked the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Malnutrition amongst children has dramatically increased and basic services, ruined by years of wars and sanctions, cannot meet the needs of the Iraqi people. Millions of Iraqis have been forced to flee the violence, either to another part of Iraq or abroad. Many of those are living in dire poverty.”
[snip; what I’ve taken out here is extremely relevant and I urge you to read it. But I want to go on to make a different point, so I deleted many important facts about the health of Iraqi children.]
Presently, 70 percent of the population in Iraq is without adequate water supplies and 80 percent lacks adequate sanitation. Dr. Abdul-Rahman Adil Ali of the Baghdad Health Directorate has warned about the serious consequences of a defective sewage system. “In some of Baghdad’s poor neighbourhoods,” he said, “people drink water which is mixed with sewage.” (The Globalist)
It’s been expressed here in the comments that it is not US responsibility to make sure the water system is safe. I’d dispute that, on moral and legal grounds. As an occupying power under UN Security Council Resolution 1483 the US has a legal responsibility for the medical needs of the population pursuant to the Hague and Geneva Conventions, to which the US is a signatory.
So here’s the other thing. Even if you are so callous as to deny any responsibility to Iraqi children, we can agree, I am confident, that it is US government responsibility to make sure the water US troops drink is safe:
Dozens of U.S. troops in Iraq fell sick at bases using “unmonitored and potentially unsafe” water supplied by the military and a contractor once owned by Vice President Dick Cheney’s former company, the Pentagon’s internal watchdog says.
A report obtained by The Associated Press said soldiers experienced skin abscesses, cellulitis, skin infections, diarrhea and other illnesses after using discolored, smelly water for personal hygiene and laundry at five U.S. military sites in Iraq.
The Defense Department’s inspector general’s report, which could be released as early as Monday, found water quality problems between March 2004 and February 2006 at three sites run by contractor KBR Inc., and between January 2004 and December 2006 at two military-operated locations.
It was impossible to link the dirty water definitively to all the illnesses, according to the report. But it said KBR’s water quality “was not maintained in accordance with field water sanitary standards” and the military-run sites “were not performing all required quality control tests.”
KBR provided water treatment to U.S. troops under a large-scale defense contract that also included housing and food to soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Djbouti and Georgia.
The inspector general’s report said some troops noticed problems with the water. Between October 2004 and May 2005, troops at Camp Ar Ramadi said bathwater was discolored and had an unusual odor. The report said KBR failed to treat the nonpotable water and monitor water quality during the same period.
At Camp Q-West, KBR inappropriately delivered chlorinated wastewater for showers and latrines without informing military preventive medicine officials, the report said. “KBR did not monitor or record the quality of water at point-of-use containers before April 2006, even though the … contract required the company to do so,” the report added.
Medical records for troops at Camp Q-West indicated 38 cases of illnesses commonly attributed to problem water. These include skin abscesses, cellulitis, skin infections and diarrhea. Doctors diagnosed 24 of the cases in January and February 2006, the same period when medical officials warned of a rise in bacterial infections at the base.
In addition, military medical records – tied to no particular base in Iraq – showed 26 cases of food and waterborne diseases, including hepatitis, giardiasis and typhoid fever. (AP)
So Cheney’s KBR takes the money and lets the troops take their chances. KBR, of course, denies any incompetence or negligence. I guess it’s their word against the word of the Inspector General of the Defense Department.
I wouldn’t think that turning a blind eye to this kind of outrage, as the Bush administration has done time after time, is anyone’s idea of “supporting the troops.” But I guess I’m wrong.
Then there’s the Iraqi children. Not even an after thought