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UN Warns of Rising Health Risks for Iraqi Children - 2003-05-18

United Nations officials in Iraq say children there are face a mounting health risk due to the breakdown of essential services after the war.

The United Nations reports a sharp rise in diarrhea and malnutrition among the children of Baghdad in the aftermath of the U.S.-led war that toppled Saddam Hussein.

The executive director of UNICEF, the U.N. children's fund, is on a four-day visit to Iraq. Carol Bellemy told a Baghdad news conference Sunday about her findings. "We have seen a surge in diarrhea. This, added to the poor nutritional status has created a situation of a good deal of concern," she said.

A U.N. survey shows that one in every 12 children in Baghdad is suffering acute malnutrition, compared with one in 25 before the war.

Most of them are getting sick from drinking untreated water. The capital's electricity supply is sporadic and water and sewage treatment has been disrupted.

Ms. Bellemy said UNICEF's other major concern is that one-quarter of the children have not returned to school. "We are very concerned about all kids getting back to school, even if conditions aren't perfect, there's almost nothing you can do that's better for young children to give a bit of normalcy to their lives than to help them get back to school," she said.

Some parents say they are still afraid to send their children school, particularly their daughters, because of an ongoing wave of crime and abductions.