NI: Global Issues for Learners of English > The Issues > Iraq > Sanctions: stories of suffering

logoThe price of sanctions:

stories of suffering.


No help for the sick

In 1989, the World Health Organization reported that 93% of people in Iraq could get high-quality health care. The hospitals were modern and had the latest equipment.

Today, much of the medical equipment cannot be used: it has broken down and it is impossible to get the parts to repair it. Today, doctors have to operate on patients without giving them any anaesthetic. There are no painkillers or antibiotics.

When I visited one hospital, I met two small children who were very sick with leukaemia.

One child was three years old. He was bleeding inside and was in terrible pain. There were tears in his eyes, but he had learned not to cry because crying made his pain even worse.

The other little boy was five. He was also in terrible pain, but when I stroked his swollen face, he took my hand and squeezed it as hard as he could. At that moment I knew that it is possible to die of shame.

SANCTIONS: (n) official actions that stop trade with a country to make that country change what it is doing.

ANAESTETHETIC: (n) something that stops you from feeling pain.

PAINKILLER: (n) a medicine that makes pain less strong.

ANTIBIOTICS: (n) medicines such as penicillin, that kill bacteria.

LEUKAEMIA: (n) a type of cancer in which the blood has too many white cells.

Hunger and starvation

The World Health Organisation also reported that Iraq had high standards of education and nutrition in 1989. But in 1995, a worker for the World Food Programme reported that the situation in Iraq was as bad as anything he had ever seen in the world, and he warned that "time is running out for the children of Iraq." UNICEF has confirmed that between August 1990 and August 1997 1,211,285 Iraqi children died from causes related to the U.N. sanctions.

Inflation is so high that people cannot buy enough food for everyone in the family.

When a girl fainted in school, her teacher asked her what was wrong and she answered, "It's not my turn to eat today."


One morning I was in a poor area of Baghdad and I saw a little boy in a grocery store. He had a very important job: he was buying an egg. Just one. Eggs are so expensive that thirty eggs cost more money than a university professor earns for a month.

As he was leaving the shop, the little boy dropped the egg. He was frantic. He fell to the floor and tried to pick up the broken pieces. He was crying and crying. Gently, the shopkeeper tapped him on the shoulder and gave him another egg.


Many mothers eat so little that their bodies cannot produce milk to feed their babies. These mothers cannot afford to buy milk-powder (one tin costs more than a doctor is paid for a month). The only thing the mothers can do is to feed their babies on tea or water with sugar in it. They are called 'sugar babies' - and nearly all of them die.

STARVATION: (n) when people don't have enough to eat for a long time, so they are dying from lack of food.

UNICEF: The United Nations International Children's Fund. It is an organisation that helps children in need throughout the world.

INFLATION: (n) when the prices of most things go up.

FAINTED: (v) If you faint, you are unconsciousness for a short time. Usually, people fall to the ground when they faint.

No every-day things

Parents do not even have photographs to remember their dead children because film cannot be imported. Many other every-day things have been banned by the U.N. Sanctions Committee, including children's toys, pencils, erasers, exercise books and medical journals.

It is even a big problem to send a present to Iraq.

One grandmother who lives in Britain wanted to send some baby clothes to her new grandson, but when she went to the post office she was told that she must get a special license from the British government.

Why do the sanctions continue?

Since the Cold War ended, the West does not have one clear enemy. Perhaps a dictator like Saddam Hussein is a useful symbol of evil?

Certainly, it seems that every time Iraq meets one condition for stopping the sanctions, another condition is made. Weapons inspectors have even said that Iraq has destroyed its armaments; however, the inspectors cannot prove there are no more arms, so the sanctions continue.

And, day after day, as a result of these sanctions imposed by the United Nations, the ordinary people and the children of Iraq are dying.

COLD WAR: the name used for period of bad relations between the Communist and Capitalist countries (1950's - 1980's)


The article "Dying of Shame" by Felicity Arbuthnot, on which this was based, appeared in the January/February 1998 issue of the New Internationalist.

Copyright 1998, 2000: the New Internationalist


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Last Modified: 03 Feb 2000

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