The following excerpts are from a report written by Dr Eva-Maria Hobiger, entitled ‘The Withering of the Garden of Eden,” following a trip she made to Iraq and the Iraq/Kuwait border in December 2009.
WHERE for thousands of years, the area of southern Iraq between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers was extremely fertile, life now withers.
The encroachment of salt into the soil of southern Iraq – a consequence of years of drought in the region and the increasingly high rates of water use from both rivers by upstream neighbouring countries – has reached the point of posing great danger to the people, animals and environment.
Not only are the fishermen losing their livelihoods because of the decreasing water flow and the dropping water table, but also the farmers.
Livestock are dying from drinking the salty water – all that is available to them. Even the otherwise robust palm trees are withering and dying.
Consequently, the loss of the very foundations of life threatens everyone: no water means, after a short while, no food.
The rice farms in southern Iraq are parched. Fifty years ago, the country exported rice and rice is still the main source of food in the country, but now it must import 90 per cent of what it needs.
NEITHER the river nor the tap delivers water anymore: these days it comes only from tanker trucks which bring water from treatment plants to sell at great expense.
Every week lines of people form before them. Five gallons of their bounty cost half a Euro, easily affordable for us, but a huge burden for those left in Iraq.
What is available through the water pipes is water from the Shatt al Arab (the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers) that, owing to the fact that the water table is dropping, becomes more and more salty.
I can say from personal experience that this water is unusable: simply washing with it will cause a skin rash.
ACCORDING to a report by the Iraqi government in May 2009, 25 per cent of the Iraqi population lives beneath the poverty level—in Southern Iraq it is closer to 50 per cent.
Unemployment has risen steadily since 2003. The Iraqi government itself estimates the unemployment rate in Central and Southern Iraq at 70 per cent, the absence of jobs is a huge challenge for the young.
The young have no prospects. For them Iraq is a failed state, and will remain a failed state for a long time.
THE STORY OF AATHRA
PERHAPS it would be helpful for me to describe the circumstances of two families, in order to demonstrate how the people of Iraq live today:
Aathra is nine years old and has a heart defect. She lives in a village in Southern Iraq, near the Iranian border.
Together with her mother and two siblings, she lives with her uncle, because her father was killed two years ago in a bomb explosion while working as a driver.
Her uncle is epileptic and her aunt is disabled. The entire family, that’s six people, gets by on the money earned by Aathra’s fourteen-year-old brother, who earns at the most $150 a month in his job as an unskilled labourer.
Aathra needs to cover the 2 mile walk to school each day, and whenever she can she trudges to school despite her heart condition.
She wants to go to school, but often she simply can’t manage it, and her neighbours will find her collapsed along the way, because she just couldn’t take another step.
Aathra will be part of my new sponsorship program, so perhaps her situation will improve soon.
PEOPLE survive only through the food rations (rice, oil, flour and sugar) that the government supposedly still provides – these are rations that prevent starvation, perhaps, but people cannot actually live on them.
Beyond this, the nutritive quality of these foods is minimal, and ultimately the people do not even get their set rations due to mismanagement, bad security and corruption.
LACK OF MEDICINE AND EQUIPMENT
IN the public hospitals some improvements have been made, they may have a fresh coat of paint, but are still badly in need of facilities, equipment and medicines.
In all of Basra, there is just one CT (computerised tomography) machine and one MRI machine. Patients wait for months for studies and die in the meantime.
By comparison, in Vienna (population 1.9 million), a city with a similar population t0 Basra’s (population 2 million – 2.6 million) there are 56 CT machines and 26 MRI machines.
DOCTORS estimate that about 5 per cent of the medcine they have comes through official channels.
Some important medications, like antibiotics, can only be bought on the black market, others not at all.
ANOTHER patient, 11 year-old Ahmed, was cured of Leukaemia with medicine we supplied two years ago and he was then considered to be healthy again.
One day, just a few weeks ago, he began suffering with an upset stomach. That same day, his parents took him to the hospital, where he got an infusion of fluids, during which he died.
Our medications cured his Leukaemia, only for him to die, probably from these fluids whose contents were lethal, perhaps contaminated, but obviously unsafe for whatever reason.
ON December 8, 2009, in the city of Safwan on the Iraqi border, I consigned two large medical shipments to the doctors from Basra Maternity and Children’s Hospital.
The value of both shupments amounted to 180,000 euros (247,000 dollars.) One shipment was paid for by German federal funds, and through the support of several German aid societies.
The other shipment was made possible by private donations from Austria, Germany and Switzerland. The Austrian Red Cross also donated medicines.
NEW SPONSORSHIP PROGRAMME
OUR help will also be needed throughout this year; the sick children of Basra are surely lost without us.
For more than a year now, I have had a voluntary assistant in Basra who visits the families of children with heart conditions, who I will take to Austria with me for medical treatment when it is possible, and once in a while I therefore get a glimpse of the living conditions these families face.
After each of these visits my assistant sends me a report and some photos. This gave me the idea for a sponsorship programme, and he has agreed to carry out further visits if necessary, for the purposes of the programme.
Sponsoring a child for about 70 euros (100 dollars) a month would help these affected families tremendously.
Donors or sponsors will receive regular reports from me along with photos of the children they are helping.