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Iraq's Top Child Killer, Diarrhea, Sharply Up

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BAGHDAD, June 8 (AFP) - The number of children who suffer from diarrhea, Iraq's number one killer of infants, has more than doubled over this time last year, the United Nations children's fund (UNICEF) said Sunday.

While the ailment "may sound trivial, in Iraq it kills," said the agency's spokesman, Geoffrey Keele, noting that 70 percent of child deaths before the war were the result of diarrhea or respiratory infections.

"We've recorded a 2.5 increase in the number of children contracting diarrhea, some chronically, compared to May last year. It means that 72 percent of the children we surveyed had diarrhea," Keele told reporters.

He said cholera, whose symptoms include heavy diarrhea leading to dehydration and possible death in children, was also on the rise with 66 confirmed cases in Basra, southern Iraq.

The disease has already killed three there and overwhelmingly struck those under five years of age.

Other diseases such as dysentery and typhoid, also spread through contaminated water and food, are "becoming a real problem for children," Keele said.

He said UNICEF provided health centers with appropriate treatments ahead of Iraq's hottest summer months, July and August, when diarrhea typically soars and deplored the country's "poor hygiene when it could actually make all the difference."

"There are (currently) 500 breaks in Baghdad's water system alone that lead to contamination with sewage," he said.

"And before the war, more than 500,000 tons of sewage was dumped in Baghdad's fresh water reserves. I don't think this has changed," he added.

A spokeswoman for the World Food Program (WFP) said her organization had started distributing food rations across the country for the first time since the beginning of the war.

"But it's not enough to get food to people if the water stays contaminated and if there is poor sanitation," said Antonia Paradela, citing water and food-borne diseases and rampant malnutrition.

The US-led administration in Iraq insists that restoring the battered water treatment system is a top priority but says it suffered from chronic under-investment under Saddam Hussein's ousted regime.

Repairing it has been complicated by persistent problems with power generation.



COPYRIGHT 2003 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved.

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