Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|sanctions on Iraq|
|01/17/02 at 23:05:13|
|Bismillah and salam,|
"Bombs and bread: The people of Iraq
continue to die as Canada deludes itself about the effects of its
sanctions policy," published in the Ottawa Citizen on January 4, 2002.
It is written by Mark Zertoun who has worked as a water and sanitation
engineer for the Red Cross in Iraq.
Bombs and bread: The people of Iraq continue to die as Canada deludes itself about the effects of its sanctions policy
With Iraq once again in the news, I think immediately of the falcon hunters and salt-gatherers. Both are new phenomena, developed around an enormous lake of raw, pure sewage in the middle of the desert near Basra, Iraq's southernmost city. The lake -- a lesser-known effect of the complete economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations more than a decade ago -- is the end-point of the city's human, hospital and industrial waste. It's a toxic brew and public-health catastrophe that attracts birds and, through evaporation, creates tons of salt. The birds attract the hunters, the salt attracts the poor. Over the year that I spent as a water engineer with the International Committee of the Red Cross, the whole new, apocalyptic ecosystem even attracted the odd journalist.
Having spent a year prior to that setting up refugee camps and digging wells for the victims of a bloody war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I had developed the thick skin necessary to work in such conditions. Even amidst the dismembered limbs, the vomit and the fear and suffering, I was always able to relax with colleagues and a beer at the end of the day and attempt to sort out some of the folly we had encountered. More often than not, we'd all end up shaking our heads as our own political leaders made decisions that encourage the conflicts, leaving it up to us to mop up their mess.
In the Congo, we were able to prevent hundreds of people from starving to death, but we couldn't help tens of thousands more from succumbing to diseases, or from being raped and mutilated. There was, after all, a war going on, and we were not treating the cause of the problems, we were only dealing with the consequences.
It's the same in Iraq, where our clean-water programs reach thousands of people, yet the poor continue to collect sewage salt. Under-equipped, barely functioning hospitals see many more cases of diseases related to contaminated water or accidents resulting from landmines. There, like everywhere, our aid can only be a grain of sand in a desert.
Our work amounts to plastering Band-Aids over festering wounds. And Band-Aids, like tears, are not enough. When you're a Canadian in the field trying to repair an impoverished country's infrastructure -- damaged, in part, by your own country's policies -- you can't avoid the question: What is the difference between Canada's actions and the latest U.S. tactic of dropping bombs and bread?
The predictable reaction of those on the receiving end of those bombs -- or bread -- puts Canada's humanitarian-aid workers, peacekeepers and journalists in danger.
The real solution is always political. Yet Canada's foreign policy is too often too quick to avoid the tough questions and allow itself to rest on unrealistic, feel-good notions about the benefits of our assistance.
Consider Canada's pitiless position on Iraq. Although the policy was originally aimed at weakening the Iraqi regime, no one debates these days that the sanctions have had the opposite effect, and in so doing have led to a well-documented humanitarian catastrophe. Prior to the oil-for-food program in 1996, Unicef was reporting that 4,500 children were dying of malnutrition each month. In 1999, Unicef estimated that up to 1.5 million people had died due to the sanctions. Under the circumstances of the current world order, the suffering is bound to continue.
I have met recently with officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Canadian International Development Agency, and they share these concerns. Yet, challenged by an intransigent Iraqi leader and ever-changing U.S. demands upon him, Canada chooses to uphold the sanctions.
The confusion in Canada's position on Iraq was highlighted by Foreign Affairs' $1-million donation in humanitarian assistance in April 2000. Although paltry in size, the sum says a lot when one considers that Canada feels it must financially assist a potentially mega-rich oil country, and that we actually do so despite our support of the policy that helps to create the need the money is intended to alleviate.
The donation came after a report from the standing committee on foreign affairs. It recommended the "delinking (of) economic from military sanctions" and the creation of a diplomatic presence in Baghdad. It was accepted by Parliament but never made policy. Rather than attempting to deal with the problem, we threw $1 million at it.
Canada must play a greater role in Iraq, for our own interests. We must use our close relationship with the United States and the remnants of our international reputation to push for regional stability and prosperity, encouraged through international consensus rather than through economic or military threat.
We can play that role on three fronts:
- Humanitarian: Until the situation is resolved politically, aid organizations such as the Canadian Red Cross and the Mennonite Central Committee must be encouraged to continue their work.
- Economic: Canada must ensure that our energy companies and contractors are well-placed once that market does open up, and that we are not left behind when French, Russian and American companies step in. This requires a diplomatic presence in Baghdad to follow Spain, Russia, France and Norway, to name a few.
- Political: Canada should follow through on the recommendations of the standing committee. We could also devise incentives to get Iraq to co-operate with the world community, as was so clearly elucidated by Hans von Sponeck, the former assistant secretary general of the United Nations, upon his visit to Ottawa in November.
With a second impending war against an impoverished nation looming, it is more important than ever for Canada to play this role. Unless we attempt to do so, we are mocking the notion of universal human rights, wasting our money on futile aid and putting our reputation -- and our citizens -- at risk.
Mark Zeitoun, a water and sanitation engineer, has worked for the Red Cross in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Iraq.
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