Report from Caritas: one of the last NGOs in Iraq

 As the civilian death toll in Iraq grows each day, ordinary people are struggling to survive. And the Catholic charity, Caritas Iraq, is one of the few NGOs still operative in Iraq, bringing assistance to an ever-expanding number of people in need. Nabil Nissan, of Caritas Iraq, explained that the problems they are facing now are even more difficult than when Saddam Hussein was in power. "Then there were health centres, but we lacked medicines and equipment," said Nissan, who is the manager of the "Well Baby Programme," one of Caritas Iraq's most important projects. "Today people are less able to access health care because of the daily violence, and while the supplies are available growing corruption means they are often diverted away from those most in need," Nissan added. The NGO Coordination Committee in Iraq (NCCI) recently told Caritas Italiana in an interview that the constant stream of extreme violence was horrific, pointing out that the effects can be seen in the deteriorating conditions for the civilian population. For example, Caritas Italiana says that now some 65% of the population, or 13 million people, depend upon food distribution from international NGOs to feed themselves. The Well Baby Programme has seen a dramatic increase in the number of mothers and babies seeking help. The programme provides special care for pregnant or nursing mothers and their newborn babies, giving them the supplemental nutrition and medical attention they need. In the beginning of 2005, the Well Baby Programme was helping 8310 children, but by the end of the year there were 10,421 children in the programme, a 25% increase. The situation is more alarming in rural areas, where security is even worse. Over the same period, the number of pregnant women seeking care increased from 798 to 2217. What is equally alarming is the number of children that have not completed the programme once they started it. It remains unknown whether they have died, how many may end up permanently affected due to malnutrition, or how many were no longer able to get to the centres due to the risk to their lives in making the journey. Caritas Internationalis is a confederation of 162 Catholic relief, development, and social service organisations present in over 200 countries and territories. Source: Caritas International

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