Vatican City – Caritas Internationalis and Caritas Iraq say that malnutrition rates have risen in Iraq from 19 percent before the US-led invasion to a national average of 28 percent four years later.
Caritas says that rising hunger has been caused by high levels of insecurity, collapsed healthcare and other infrastructure, increased polarisation between different sects and tribes, and rising poverty.
Over 11 percent of newborn babies are born underweight in Iraq today, compared with a figure of 4 percent in 2003. Before March 2003, Iraq already had significant infant mortality due to malnutrition because of the international sanctions regime.
Caritas Iraq has been running a series of Well Baby Clinics throughout the country. Currently it provides supplementary food for 8000 children up to 8 years and new mothers.
The Caritas clinics help the most vulnerable, and the health crisis they face is much worse than the national average.
Caritas works in an environment of high risk insecurity. Claudette Habesch, President of Caritas Middle East North Africa works closely with Caritas Iraq: "Sectarian and tribal conflict infects daily life in Iraq. Primary and secondary schools, hospitals, police, government are all divided along these lines. You cannot even go to the supermarket without fear that you will not return.
"Caritas Iraq is working against this difficult background providing vital food to the most vulnerable children and newborn mothers. Staff face great risks but still managing to provide medical care in a country where the national healthcare system has collapsed in some areas.
"Iraq has the second largest oil supplies in the world, but it has levels of poverty, hunger and underdevelopment comparable to sub-Saharan Africa.
"The last four years, but in particular 2006, we have seen life get worse rather than better for the ordinary Iraqi. And people are voting with their feet. Everyday 5000 people leave Iraq. In 2007, one in ten Iraqis is expected to leave the country.
"We are seeing minority groups such as Christians completely disappear from the country or leave their homes for safer areas. I have hope for Iraq that things will improve but that is because things can surely get no worse."