Iraq child malnutrition

According to UNICEF, in 1996 (after sanctions, but before oil-for-food), 23% of Iraqi children under five were underweight and 11% were acutely malnourished.

According to UNICEF, in 2002 (after the full impact of oil-for-food had kicked in), 9% of Iraqi children under five were underweight and 4% were acutely malnourished.

According to the UNDP, in 2004 (after the war), an unspecificed percentage of Iraqi children under five were underweight and 8% were acutely malnourished.

If you believe the relevant agencies are lying, then you should make some kind of a case to show it: you may then end up adding to the stock of human knowledge on Iraq, and possibly even reveal something useful and interesting.

If, however, you believe the agencies are retrospectively adjusting or lying about their figures to make political claims, you are more of an idiot (and possibly a liar) than Shannon Love, Tim Blair and Michael Fumento put together. And that’s one hell of an idiot.

There is one genuine ambiguity that I’ll mention now before it’s brought up, which is that a 1997 press release from UNICEF cites a 25% rate of ‘malnutrition’ in Iraqi children under five (presumably the term is being used equivalently to ‘underweight’ here, which is careless). If this were acute malnutrition, it would imply that the oil-for-food program was an even greater success than implied by the statistics above. Either way, UNICEF’s position on Iraqi child underweight and malnutrition rates immediately pre-war was made clear in 2002 by the press release above, and is entirely consistent with the most recent survey results as reported in the Washington Post.

There is also a fake ambiguity: the 25% figure from 1996 became a meme among anti-sanctions groups, and (as do many statistics) continued to circulate in a mangled format long after it became obsolete. Unfortunately, it appears to have been found by whoever wrote the Iraq summary page on UNICEF’s website.

This doesn’t make any difference to the actual numbers: a freelance web copywriter is not a qualified statistician, even if they happen to work for the same organisation. Nor does it show UNICEF to be exceptionally crap: in my professional experience, nobody who puts out a significant amount of content has ever managed entirely to avoid the peripheral-use-of-apocryphal-numbers-that-contradict-your-in-house-data problem.

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36 thoughts on “Iraq child malnutrition

  1. I am sorry, but I just cant accept figures that come from a totalitarian regime where all foreigners were accompanied by minders. I just don’t get why anybody could give credibility to findings under such conditions. The UN could know only what Saddam wanted them to know. Either you trust Saddam to have the best interests of his people in mind, or you don’t. I don’t.

    Lets not even get into the way Oil for Food has corrupted the UN.

  2. The UN could know only what Saddam wanted them to know. Either you trust Saddam to have the best interests of his people in mind, or you don’t. I don’t.

    Of course I don’t.

    However, the UN statistics staff aren’t stupid; even if they were, all the incentives for him to lie encourage him to lie in the other direction, in order to encourage the West to loosen sanctions (nobody in the West was holding a gun to Saddam’s head to make him be nicer to his people, whereas the sanctions process was seriously frustrating his military fun and games).

  3. Lessee if I got this straight….Saddam is busy making fools of the UN through his manipulation of the Oil for Food program. (PLEASE note the name of that program,especially the FOOD part, and wrap your ganglia around the proposition that the food that would help decrease malnutrition was denied Iraqi children through such manipulation.)

    Except the UN knows damn well, and Saddam knows they do, that the O for F program is (wink wink) scandalously compromised, and does nothing about it.

    Saddam was a monster, who didn’t give a shite about his own people, the UN or anyone else. The UN knew the situation, yet did squat.

    So tell me again why Saddam would be worried about stats that indicate high malnutrition among children??? Ya think
    he didn’t know that he had the UN in his hip pocket? Ya think all those toothless resolutions didn’t give him the idea that the UN was a bunch of impotent or corrupt pansies?

  4. So you agree that Saddam had no reason to lie about falling malnutrition rates, since he had the UN in his pocket and knew they were impotent and corrupt? Good.

  5. Saddam had every reason to lie, First to get the sanctions lifted, and then to continue the "Oil for Food" program, which he had subverted, with the willing help of the UN and Euorpe, into a vehicle for bypassing the sanctions and for bribing useful idiots and venal cretins alike into attempting to save his regime

    I don’t have any idea of what logical point you were trying to make with your last post, since it seems to make no sense, but maybe, if you explain to me as if I were a child, why the impotence of the UN to do anything to do anything concrete has any bearing on the reports that it issues.

    Perhaps he may have felt that he did not need to lie to the UN because it was in there interest to produce a false report anyway? Is that what you are trying to say?

    And how old are you anyway? You argue like you are about 15.

  6. I’ll try and spell it out for you as simply as possible, since you appear to be slightly impaired:

    * It is (now) an established fact that even following oil-for-food, sanctions were effective at containing Saddam’s military ambitions.

    * Assuming that Saddam had military ambitions, he had a strong incentive to get the sanctions lifted.

    * The only way to swing international opinion in favour of lifting the sanctions would be to make people believe that oil-for-food was ineffective and that people were still being killed by sanctions-related poverty.

    * There was no real prospect among Western countries that if oil-for-food failed to significantly alleviate child malnutrition, it would be closed down – we (US included) wanted the oil; the people on the take wanted to stay on the take; and nobody sensible was willing to invade Iraq to remove Saddam (at least until post 9/11).

    => Saddam has no incentive to pretend OFF is working (because if it is working, he has no chance of getting sanctions lifted); he has some incentive to pretend it is not (if OFF fails, sanctions might be lifted; if OFF fails and sanctions are not lifted, the program still won’t be cancelled).

  7. And how old are you anyway? You argue like you are about 15.

    I know that this is hard for people whose only experience of education is the American school system, but John is 13 and his prowess in understanding and presenting figures is only slightly above average.

  8. I don’t believe UNICEF are lying, though I do believe they might be mistaken. After all, the combined expertise of American, British, and French military intelligence appears to have made at least a couple of mistakes about goings-on in Saddam’s Iraq; I see no reason why UNICEF, with fewer resources, might not also make some mistakes.

  9. Fair enough.

    I’m not saying they are mistaken, by the way; just that they could well be. The thought of child malnutrition increasing in any country during a war is hardly far-fetched. My dad was a bit short of food in the 40s.

  10. For the first time in my life, and against my better judgement, I am going to use Michael Moronic as a source:

    "Pedersen (one of the authors of the report)noted …given the fact that World Food Program has distributed a lot of food, it’s quite clear that one could expect some malnutrition, but the level that there is, it’s a bit difficult to explain."

    So, whereas I would not dismiss the report out of hand, even one of the authors cannot explain the figures.

    The Iraqi Nutritional Research Institute does actually dispute the figures:

    "I think the data is suspect, and the figure as such is completely exaggerated," says Khalil Muhsin, director of Iraq’s Nutrition Research Institute.

    "The Health Ministry says its findings show 4.4% of children 6 months to 5 years old suffer from acute malnutrition. "

  11. By the way. I never intended to imply that I believed that the UN is lying either. I would wanted to point out that there were significant obsticals to getting at the truth.

    And we are not talking about understanding figures, we are talking about accepting them unquestionably. It is unsurprising that you missed the point. I am pretty sure the Europeans are highly schooled in accepting the pronouncements of their betters at the UN, EU, etc without question. Intelligent discourse in Europe seems to consist of proving who can spout the official govt line most faithfully and earnestly.

    And john b, it is interesting that you seem to have achieved a complete understanding of Saddam’s views of his own interests. I mean, he always did what appeared to be logical, didn’t he? He destroyed all of his WMD, just like the UN wanted, yet did not bother to provide the proof that would have gone a long way towards getting the sanctions lifted. What is your interpretatino of this one? Is it possible that Saddam judged that the US would never allow the sanctions to be lifted, and so saw the OFF scam as the best he could hope for for the time, since it did include the promise of a French UNSC veto, as well as the oppostion of the Russians and the Germans to the war, which in his loopy judgement, he thought would be decisive.

    Speculating on motives proves nothing. My only point is that there is no reason to accept UNICEF’s figures at face value. Your trust and faith in them is sort of touching though.

  12. I guess that I should say in the case of the UK, who can spout the BBC line the most earnestly.

  13. And one last point (I promise) that i failed to make. It seems more likely to me that, as in so many other fields, a rise in some statistics can be attributed to better access to a population and better reporting? Especially in remote areas? Or is that point to pro-war to even consider?

  14. I am pretty sure the Europeans are highly schooled in accepting the pronouncements of their betters at the UN, EU, etc without question. Intelligent discourse in Europe seems to consist of proving who can spout the official govt line most faithfully and earnestly.

    I am pretty sure you are making no sense. And I say this as a free-thinking, authority-questioning American over the age of 15, in case you’re tempted to wonder.

  15. Well John S, I am pretty sure that you don’t know that many Europeans personally then. Maybe instead of govt line, I should say the current European groupthink, is that better?

  16. Why not just go the whole hog and tell us all Europeans are brainwashed?

  17. Personally, I would say that Europeans are probably more "brainwashed" than Americans, in the sense that their views are more homogenous. I wonder if it is because there are more powerfull state broadcasters, such as the BBC? I am European by the way, and I work for a European company across Europe. I have found my European colleagues to be very educated on academic matters, but less willing to look beyond what their state broadcasters tell them.

  18. Well John S, I am pretty sure that you don’t know that many Europeans personally then.

    Fair enough, certainly I don’t know as many Europeans as I would if I were, well, European.

    Maybe instead of govt line, I should say the current European groupthink, is that better?

    Only in that it somewhat concedes the point; my contention was that you were making no sense, and if I may elaborate, spouting baseless assertions — shifting to another vague generalization hardly makes your case more convincing.

  19. The source of the repport is not some sort of objective scintist or expert, it is Jean Ziegler, a communist Swiss politician, fanatically anti-american, admirerer of Ho Chi Minh and once a personal friend of Che Guevara. The BBC, oddly, does not mention this…

    Ziegler is under investigation by the UN themselfs(!) for being too biased.

    I wonder if it is possible that a man who claims that "100,000 people are killed every day by capitalism" would find what he wants to find, specially in a situation where facts are few and uncertain.

    Good think the left is as critical of facts as alwas.

  20. The BBC, oddly, does not mention this…

    Nor, oddly, does the Washington Post article (which John originally linked to).

    Presumably they must be in on this ‘brainwash the Europeans’ scam, too.

  21. I think I am reading a European saying that Americans are less brainwashed because they don’t have a powerful government broadcaster.

    And the evidence is that the Americans have less homogenous beliefs.

    I seem to remember a survey suggesting that one third of the American public believes that Iraq DID have WMD, and did cause 9/11. Where would you get that opinion?

    I must be brainwashed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporati on.

  22. Hello David

    Yes you did read a European saying that Europeans are more ‘brainwashed’ by their media, than the Americans. That is certainly my experience. I am British, but work for a German company and, hence, spend a lot of time in Germany in particular, but I do work across Europe. My German colleagues are very well educated, but very, shall we say homogenous in their thinking on political matters. They are even buying Michael Moores book! How ridiculous is that.

    In the UK, for example the State broadcasters are dominant, our very own BBC is given £2.5 billion pa. It is therefore very keen to hang on to this money and is therefore, inevitably pro – left, anti market.

    -On the question of WMD in Iraq, you will probably find that it was the assessment of the German and French Intelligence Services that WMDs were in Iraq. Even Hans Blix believed Iraq had WMD (but he wanted more time to do the inspections). In the UK I believe public opinion also believed that Iraq had WMD. So I do not understand your point on this?

    -On the question of Iraqi involvement in 9/11. My understanding was that Bill Clinton was the first to connect Iraq with international terrorism to justify the cruise missile attacks on Sadam. Also, Vladimir Putin confirmed that Russian intelligence had

    "Russian intelligence services warned Washington several times that Saddam Hussein’s regime planned terrorist attacks against the United States, President Vladimir Putin has said."

    Also Iraqi agents had tried to assasinate George Bush senior on a trip to Kuwait and did fund suicide bombings in Iraq, by paying the families of suicide bombers a reward. Again not an unreasonable assumption

    PS- All of the above information is available in the US, but I have not seen it much in Europe. My German colleagues and indeed British colleagues are genuinely amazed when they hear it.

    PS- I do not think this is a ‘European’ v ‘American’ thing here. It is a ‘left wing’ v ‘right wing’ media. It is just that in Europe we are dominated by left wing broadcasters (i.e the BBC) and it is not as easy to get a balanced picture. The newspapers are more evenly balanced between left and right.

  23. What is this nonsense about Europeans being brainwashed, having homogeneous views, and being unable to hold an intelligent conversation? I’m not swallowing rubbish about "the current European groupthink" from someone who satisfies a very negative very American stereotype: obnoxious, right-wing, and convinced that everywhere outside the US is inherently inferior. If the last US election proved anything, it proved that vast swathes of the US are totally homogeneous in their thinking: Jesus lives, the Arabs in general are responsible for 11/9, and by the way we hate the gays.

    If we in the UK are so brainwashed by the left-wing media, why do we have a right-wing government and an even righter-wing second party? And if there’s so much diversity of opinion in the US why do the two main political parties speak as one on so many issues?

  24. "If the last US election proved anything, it proved that vast swathes of the US are totally homogeneous in their thinking: Jesus lives, the Arabs in general are responsible for 11/9, and by the way we hate the gays."

    Gee Larry sounds more like a series of referendums than an election.

    By the way when did gay marriage become legal in the UK ?

  25. I’m no expert on these matters, but my understanding is that it is "civil unions" that are being allowed in the UK, rather than "marriage". This has been George Bushs position for quite some time and civil unions have been allowed in the US for quite some time. So it would seem that the UK is catching America up, but is still behind…

    Also was it not the American Church of England that ordained its first openly gay bishop, this is being resisted by the C of E.

    PS: I am British, born in Lancashire and living in London…

  26. John B

    That’s not marriage dopey, that’s civil union – George Bush believes in that and it occurs in some states in the US.

  27. My understanding of US civil unions is that they don’t provide the same legal protection as marriage, although this may be incorrect. UK civil unions are absolutely identical to civil marriage in all ways apart from name…

  28. John B

    My understanding is that the UK ‘civil unions’ are not legally identical to marriages, there are still differences, like in the US.

  29. WTF have Gay Marriages to do with the Lancet Survey? It is totally off topic.

    I have yet to read any analysis by a reputable qualified body or person that dismisses the Lancet Survey. Those I have read are as full of holes as the WMDs bull.


    UNICEF was releasing figures for 2002 -2003 that were an extrapolation on pre & 1999 data. They have since up-dated their information which shows the Lancet Survey to be fairly accurate in its assessment.

    People seem to forget that as there were a lot of kids died pre the No Oil No Food Program, those born as the program began to show benefits, were relatively healthy new bouncing babies. Unfortunately they are now facing the same problems as their predecessors.

    Lack of food was/is not the main cause of malnutrition, but wasting diseases bought about by unsanitary conditions and poor water. No amount of food helps when it cannot be digested properly because of diseases thru bad water and lack of sanitation.

    The people of Iraq were subjected to harsh sanctions which drove them into dependence upon the Hussein regime. The No Food No Oil Program, although it did help, actually drove Iraqis even futher into the Hussein regimes clutches, because they depended upon it for distribution.

    This can be seen in the improvements in health in the autonomous regions as compared to the regions under full Hussein control, where it was used to curry favour or totally corrupted for their own purposes.


    In essence, Iraq was held under seige by US pushed and tabled UN sanctions which began at the end of Bush Snrs tenure. They poisoned the well by destroying civil infrastructure, threw the dead corpse of disease over the wall through sanctions on medical /medicines. Typical seige. Then sat back and waited until the turn around in power in the USA.

    The PNAC even lobbied Clinton, encouraging him to push the button on Iraq.

    Now the signatories to those letters are in power in the Whitehouse and their man has done their bidding. Allowed by US citizens, brainwashed into believing Iraq had WMDs, helped in the 9/11 attacks and were an immediate threat to the US public. None of which was true.

    The result is as predicted. Chaos.

  30. Those I have read are as full of holes as the WMDs bull.


    Critiques I have read are as full of holes as the WMDs bull.

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