April 8, 2008

Depleted Uranium Radiation

A COUPLE OF WEEKS before the outbreak of war in Iraq, I travelled with a cross-party group of MEPs to Baghdad and Basra to see for myself the effects on ordinary Iraqi people of the last Gulf War and 12 years of crippling sanctions, and to try to assess the likely humanitarian impact of another war.

 I found a country on its knees – its  economy was in tatters, teachers, doctors and other professionals were being paid so little that some were forced to abandon their jobs to take any opportunities to make a living and malnutrition was affecting one child in three. Parts of the country were still reeling from of the ongoing effects of the widespread use of Depleted Uranium {DU) munitions by British and American forces during the 1991 conflict.

Depleted uranium is used to produce missiles capable of penetrating armoured vehicles or underground bunkers – but their use produces radioactive dust that travels in the air and is inhaled by nearby residents for years after their initial use.

Even before this latest military misadventure, Iraq’s children were still suffering the consequences of the DUtipped warheads that rained down on their country over a decade ago.

Basra, in the South of Iraq, was one of the places worst hit by the effects of such radiation. I visited the Basra Maternity and Paediatric Hospital. It was a harrowing experience, where I was shown the most shocking photographs of babies born with terrible congenitall malformations.

 “Women are afraid of becoming pregnant in this city,” Dr Jasim, the hospital’s chief oncologist told me. “Before 1991, we had no leukemias at this hospital. Now we sometimes have four or five in one week”.

During my visit I learned the devastating scale of the suffering caused by DU: that Iraqi children were seven times more likely to be born with leukaemia or birth defects than before the Gulf War. Researchers in Basra, near Iraq’s border with Kuwait, have directly blamed the shocking increase on allied forces’ use of depleted uranium (DU) weapons in 1991.

The incidence of congenital malformations per 1,000 births in Basra rose from 3.04 in 1991 to 22.19 in 2001, according to the report ‘Depleted Uranium and Health:

Incidence and Pattern of Congenital Abnormalities Among Births in Basra 1990-2001’. The report also shows childhood leukaemias in and around the city have doubled over the same period and the total number of children suffering from malignant disease such as lymphoma and brain tumours rose threefold between 1990 and 1999. These figures make a mockery of Tony Blair’s desperate and increasingly isolated justification that war was a moral duty to help the Iraqi people. No wonder that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, warned that a war on Iraq 
would be “a disaster from the humanitarian perspective” – and that the UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights has ruled the use of DU m u n i t i o n s illegal for their indiscriminate effects on civilians, a ruling which has been simply ignored by military planners in the UK and US. When innocent, even unborn, children suffer the effects of war for many years to come, it becomes completely impossible for Blair and Bush to pretend they were driven by a desire to protect and enhance the lives
of Iraqi civilians.

Despite these findings, and the increasingly well – documented indiscriminate risks to human health posed by DU, the weapons were widely used during the most recent conflict. Neither the US or UK Governments have vet. nnhlished details of where they were used, details urgently required by humanitarian agencies and health workers struggling to limit  their post-war impact on civilians. The MoD has simply stated: “DU will remain part of our arsenal for the foreseeable future because we have a duty to provide our troops with the best available equipment”. But British troops may not thank the ministry for its decision:

thousands of Gulf War veterans are estimated to be suffering from illnesses resulting from the last conflict and large numbers are already making the same claims this time around.

Please contact your MP today regarding the use of depleted uranium in British armaments.

by Caroline Lucas ( GREEN MEP )