Thursday, April 20, 2006

Study faults US health effort in Iraq, Afghanistan

Study faults US health effort in Iraq, Afghanistan
By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has botched efforts to improve public health in Iraq and Afghanistan, missing a chance to gain support in those countries, an independent report released on Wednesday said.

U.S. reconstruction efforts in Iraq following the 2003 invasion failed to maintain and improve basic sanitation and provide safe drinking water in heavily populated areas, the RAND Corp. report stated.

This may have encouraged anti-American sentiment and sympathy for the insurgency, the nonprofit research organization said.

"Nation-building efforts cannot be successful unless adequate attention is paid to the health of the population," said Seth Jones, a RAND political scientist and a lead author of the report.

"The health status of those living in the country has a direct impact on a nation's reconstruction and development, and history teaches us it can be a key tool in capturing the goodwill of a nation's residents."

U.S. efforts to rebuild the public health and health care systems received too few dollars, and the projects that were carried out did too little to improve the lives of ordinary Iraqis and Afghans, according to the report.

For example, initial efforts in the critical period immediately after the Iraqi invasion focused on things like redesigning medical training programs and designing disease-tracking systems, which did not help most Iraqis.

About 40 percent of Baghdad's water and sanitation network has been damaged since the U.S. invasion, and efforts to rebuild the crumbling and aging system have moved too slowly amid security problems and looting, the report stated.

Researchers unfavorably compared health reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan to post-World War Two efforts in Japan and Germany. However, while those countries remained calm under foreign occupation, violence in Iraq and instability in Afghanistan have hindered reconstruction projects.