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   Physician Details Horrors To Come in a War against Iraq

Talk at Hopkins Hospital:

Physician Details Horrors To Come in a War against Iraq

If there is a "conventional" war in Iraq, between 50,000 and 200,000 civilians will die during the war and the ensuing three months, Dr. Barry Levy estimated.

by Neil Holtzman, M.D., M.P.H.

Civilians will be the major victims if we go to war in Iraq, Dr. Barry Levy told over 300 medical and public health students and others at The Johns Hopkins Hospital on January 30th. The consequences of invading prompted Dr. Levy, a past President of the American Public Health Association, to ask, "What kind of a nation are we becoming?" He noted that civilian casualties increased from 14% of all casualties in World War I, to 67% in World War II, to 75% in wars in the 1980s, and to 90% in wars in the 1990s, including the Gulf War.

If there is a "conventional" war in Iraq, between 50,000 and 200,000 civilians will die during the war and the ensuing three months, Dr. Levy estimated. Disease and additional deaths will result from further disruption of Iraq’s transportation and electricity systems and contamination of its water supply. The UN has estimated that since the first Gulf War, in the period coinciding with the embargo against Iraq and the dropping of approximately 2000 bombs in the "no fly" zones, almost 10,000 homes were destroyed. Life expectancy dropped from 66 to 63 years (from 1990 to 1998) while in the countries around Iraq life expectancy increased. Since the Gulf War, between 350,000 to 500,000 excess child deaths have occurred.

Severe malnutrition affected 12% of Baghdad’s children in 1997, a 50% increase from the start of the Gulf War. Mild to moderate malnutrition increased 2.5 times to 31% in the same period. The "oil for food" program started in 1997 provides a family with only $18 per person per month for food and medicines. Food rations are limited to 750 to 1000 calories per day, an inadequate amount to provide nutrition. In the year after the first Gulf War almost 2 million refugees fled Iraq and 15,000 to 30,000 of them died. Malnutrition, childhood fatalities, and the number of refugees will climb even higher with a more intense and sustained attack.

Recognizing Saddam Hussein’s ruthlessness, Dr. Levy predicted that an American invasion will inflict more damage on the people of Iraq, surrounding countries, and the world than what Hussein could unleash. The disruption in oil supplies will lead to rising oil prices, worsening the recession in the United States. Far from decreasing terrorism, a war against Iraq could increase it. He urged patience and letting the inspectors continue their work.

Returning to his question, "What kind of a nation are we becoming?," Dr. Levy quoted Professor William Irvin Thompson of the York University in England. "We become what we hate," wrote Professor Thompson. Dr. Levy cited Germany and Japan, the "evil axis" in World War II, as an example. Today these two countries devote much more of their economies to peace than to war, while the United States becomes more bellicose and, since September 11, abrogates civil liberties simply on the basis of national origin. The United States has not signed the treaty banning the use of land mines—142 other countries have—and continues to stockpile them. Land mines look like shiny plastic toys, Dr. Levy told the audience, so it is no wonder that children are often the ones who are killed or maimed by them.

Dr. Levy noted that the US ranks number 1 in the world in military expenditures. However, the US ranks 25th in life expectancy and 29th in infant mortality. By contributing $25 billion a year—a fraction of what the US allocates to military spending—"we could meet all of the basic unmet health needs of the poorest countries," Dr. Levy said.

Dr. Barry Levy is a Professor of Community Health at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. He received his medical and public health training at Cornell and Harvard, and has been a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and founder and director of the occupational health program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He has worked in more than 20 developing countries.

The meeting at Hopkins Hospital, which was open to all, was sponsored by the medical student branch of the Middle Eastern Student Association at The Johns Hopkins University, a secular group interested in human rights and humanitarian and public health issues. The event was co-sponsored by Physicians for Human Rights, a national organization concerned with the consequences of terrorism and war throughout the world.

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This story was published on February 10, 2003.
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