Starved of funds and hope;Briefing

12th June 1998 at 01:00

Susannah Hall and David Olafimihan report on the effect of nearly eight years of economic isolation on Iraq's children.

The pavement outside Futnah school, Baghdad, is packed with noisy children. We had arrived unannounced at this typical primary with Margaret Hassan, director of Care International - a charity which is trying to fix the latrines and water supplies in 60 of the capital's schools.

The school is spartan. The walls, floor and ceiling are concrete covered with peeling paint. Pupils' artwork is displayed in the headteacher's office - as are pictures of Saddam Hussein playing with children. In the corner stands a tatty empty fridge.

Ameen Taha Al Qaissey, the headteacher, explains that they no longer get money from the government to pay for maintenance and electricity - these have become luxuries.

Then a teacher bursts in. She had seen the Care logo on our car and wanted to know if we could provide any desperately-needed desks. There wasn't much Ms Hassan could say since Care's funding doesn't stretch to desks.

The head talks about the illnesses which now plague the children. Typhoid, malaria, TB and chronic anaemia have all appeared since sanctions were imposed. Dirty latrines and contaminated drinking water have spread infection through the school. In addition, anaemia due to malnourishment is making children more susceptible to disease.

"Many children come to school without eating breakfast. They used to bring a sandwich to eat mid-morning, but now their families have nothing more to sell and can't afford to buy the food.

"Before the sanctions schools used to provide a meal. Now many children leave school at 1pm and they still have had nothing to eat," he says.

Ms Hassan points out the cheap slippers that most of the teachers were wearing. She said they wouldn't have been seen dead in such slip-ons before the sanctions, but they are all they can now afford. One teacher was earning just 3,800 dinars (pound;1.80) a month. A decent pair of shoes costs four times her salary.

The head, with 45 years of experience only earns pound;3. When we asked him how he managed, he told us he has another job working evenigs as an office clerk. He is 65 years old.

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