In all the talk of surges and numbers of troops and COIN, we too often forget who really pays the price of our adventures in “the long war.”
Many of us were saddened – but not surprised at the report in the Guardian this week about the explosion of birth defects amongst children born in Fallujah in Iraq. Sky News has also been reporting about these conditions for the past year and a half, and their Lisa Holland wrote of her recent return trip to the Fallujah hospital:
There is no precise explanation as to what has caused the deformities and there are no figures to compare cases with those a decade or more ago as records were not kept during the time of Saddam Hussein.
All of our evidence is anecdotal, but repeatedly people tell us they believe the deformities must be linked to the heavy bombardment of Fallujah – a Sunni insurgent stronghold – by America in 2004.
People want an independent investigation into the impact of the kinds of weapons used – including controversial white phosphorus.
We can expect the same in Afghanistan where the same weapons are being used – and where extreme poverty and even fewer health resources are available. Just this week, Unicef reported that:
Eight years after the start of the international campaign to end Taliban rule in Afghanistan, more than half of all children under age five suffer from malnutrition…
The report shows that 59 per cent of Afghanistan’s children under the age of five do not get enough to eat, leading to developmental problems.
Or consider the report on the results of Israel’s Cast Lead attack on Gaza – where large amounts of American supplied White Phosphorous and other toxic weapons were used. Here’s Desmond Travers, a retired Colonel of the Army of the Irish Defence Forces, speaking to Ken Silverstein of Harpers about what he observed as part of the Goldstone investigation:
We were disturbed by the lethality and toxicity of weapons used in Gaza, some of which have been in Western arsenals since the Cold War, such as white phosphorous, which incinerated 14 people, including several children in one attack; flechettes, small darts that are designed to tumble upon entering human flesh in order to cause maximum damage, strictly in breach of the Geneva Convention; and highly carcinogenic tungsten shrapnel and dime munitions, which contain tungsten in powder form. There is also a whole cocktail of other problematic munitions suspected to have been used.
There are a number of other post-conflict issues in Gaza that need to be addressed. The land is dying. There are toxic deposits from all the munitions that have been dropped. There are serious issues with water—its depletion and its contamination. There is a high instance of nitrates in the soil that is especially dangerous to children. If these issues are not addressed, Gaza may not even be habitable by World Health Organization norms.
As Mousha Bashir or the Lebanese blog UrShalim asked after reading the Fallujah reports:
Will the UN or the USA or the UK ever acknowledge this serious problem in Iraq specifically in Fallujah, Basra, Baghdad and Al – Najaf? Will they implement the cleaning up of toxic materials that was used by the occupying forces to “bring democracy” to the people of Iraq? Was the use of Depleted Uranium and White Phosphorus, among other deadly and toxic weapons, necessary for the Birth of the “New Middle East”? Was it worth it? Just wondering…
Speaking of children, I wanted to add a personal bit of news here. My brother Jerid, who many firepups met during the Lamont campaign, has been involved for several years in working to help children in Nicaragua through his foundation, Fuel for Humanity. FFH works with the kids of Chinandega, Nicaragua where families try to make living at the local garbage dump. FFH programs have helped two of the local children go to college and one has just graduated and will receive help to go on to graduate school. They hope to add a third college student this year – and to also launch a similar program at an orphanage in Mexico.
Ok, so here’s the ask – Fuel for Humanity launched its holiday auction today and if you would like to donate items to auction or bid for some of the very neat things already there – or simply chip in a few bucks for FFH’s programs, here’s the link: 2009 Auction for Fuel for Humanity.