Friday, May 13, 2005

Quality of life for many Iraqis still poor, U.N. says


Quality of life for many Iraqis still poor, U.N. says
By Rick Jervis, USA TODAY

BAGHDAD — In one of the most comprehensive surveys on living conditions in Iraq, the United Nations reported Thursday that many Iraqis have poor access to clean water, live in overcrowded conditions, struggle to stay in school and often live in homes without sewage systems.

"The people of Iraq are struggling," said Staffan de Mistura, representative for the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) in Iraq. "This may sound obvious. But it has been proven in this report."

The report does not compare conditions now to living conditions in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. But it does show that some basic services — electricity, water, education — have worsened since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, said Alia al-Dalli, an official in the UNDP Iraq office.

"Although the physical and social infrastructure is there, services are deteriorating," she said. "These figures give an indication not only of how things are at the moment, but of how things have been going."

Researchers for the Iraq Living Conditions Survey 2004, one of the most comprehensive studies of life in postwar Iraq, interviewed 21,668 households nationwide last year on such topics as housing, nutrition, employment and education.

The last similar survey performed was in 1997, but the government survey did not include the Kurdistan region to the north, al-Dalli said. The recent survey sampled all 18 provinces, she said.

The latest survey was a joint effort of Iraq's Planning Ministry and the UNDP. Among the findings:

•10% of families suffer from overcrowding. In the countryside in Ninevah province, 14% of families live in huts. In rural areas to the north, 25% of homes have been destroyed by war.

•85% of households have unreliable electricity, and 29% rely on alternative sources of power, mostly generators. Power in many parts of Iraq was intermittent under Saddam's regime as well.

•80% of families in rural areas use unsafe drinking water.

•37% of households are connected to sewage networks.

•10.5% of Iraqis are unemployed, and among youth the rate is 19%. That is a sharp decline from the 75% unemployment rate immediately after the fall of Saddam's regime.

•The median hourly wage is about 54 cents.

•Women die during childbirth at a rate of 193 out of every 100,000 births in Iraq, compared with 23 per 100,000 in Saudi Arabia and 850 per 100,000 in Yemen.

•Almost a quarter of children from 6 months to 5 years suffer from chronic malnutrition.

Literacy and education campaigns in the 1970s bolstered education levels among children, particularly girls, the survey found. But declines in education levels in the past few years have hurt women's education, it said.

Among rural women, 64% have not completed elementary education and 50% are illiterate, it said.

The report also looked at war-related deaths. According to its data, the war has claimed the lives of about 24,000 Iraqi civilians and Iraqi military personnel. Children younger than 18 accounted for 12% of the deaths, it said.

"The survey, in a nutshell, depicts a rather tragic situation of the quality of life," Iraq's new planning minister, Barham Saleh, told the Associated Press.