A couple of things to mention before I post the article that the Big Issue recently featured on Basra.
Last year we raised a total of €3,100 (£2,345 at today’s exchange rate), so a big thank you to everyone who supported us and made a donation.
Secondly, I’ll be writing a report on the situation in Basra for The Tablet, which will be published next month, to coincide with the 5th anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq.
We hope to generate further publicity during the month.
Finally, below is the piece that featured in the Big Issue, kindly written by journalist Rebecca Thomson. (The headline is by me, as I haven’t seen the actual published article.)
Depleted uranium: Iraq’s Toxic Legacy
By Rebecca Thomson
Depleted uranium weapons have been the subject of controversy for years, but the effects they are currently having in Iraq make the case for banning them more pronounced than ever.
Professor Siegwart Horst Gunther, a German doctor who worked in Iraq for four decades, made a recent return to the country and found shockingly high rates of cancer and birth defects among children.
He, along with film-maker Frieder Wagner, and scientists Ted Weymann and Professor Asaf Durakovic, made a film documenting the appalling effects depleted uranium has on people living in war-torn countries, as well as the soldiers who fought in them.
The substance has a half life of 4.5 billion years making the countries involved permanently contaminated. It is a by-product of the nuclear fuel making process and is difficult and expensive to store, but once made into weapons, its devastating effects give its protagonists a huge military advantage.
Western governments oscillate between pretending they don’t use it, and saying radiation levels coming from the weapons are too low to have adverse health effects.
But doctors in Basra report that ten times as many patients are dying of cancer related diseases than before the 1991 Gulf War, while the number of babies born with birth defects is 20 times higher.
Thousands of soldiers who fought in the Gulf War, in the Balkans conflict, and in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, have suffered symptoms synonymous with uranium poisoning, but US and UK governments refuse to acknowledge that their weapons caused these illnesses.
The UN has raised questions about the legality and safety of depleted uranium, while the European Parliament has repeatedly passed resolutions requesting an immediate moratorium on further use of the weapons, which have been blocked by the UK and France.
The American government and its allies continue to risk the lives of their own military personnel, causing devastating health problems for the countries they attack, despite knowing about the risks associated with the weapons.
Fighting the effects of depleted uranium is increasingly difficult for doctors and nurses in Iraq. The enormous difficulties they face were shown in a recent Medact report, which highlighted severe shortcomings in the reconstruction of Iraq’s health system.
The occupying powers are failing to protect doctors and nurses, the report says, meaning many of those who have escaped being killed or kidnapped are leaving the country.
In addition, 40 per cent of the 900 essential drugs are out of stock in hospitals – especially higher-cost medicines such as those for childhood leukaemia.
Against this catastrophic backdrop, NGOs and charities are working hard to provide hope to the people that remain in Iraq. The Aladin’s Magic Lantern Project is one of them, raising £395,000 a year to run a children’s and maternity hospital in Basra.
The people in Iraq are facing an increasingly desperate situation and the importance of projects like this one is becoming clearer as the effects of the humanitarian disaster in the country continue to grow.