10 April 2003


(Reissued as received.)

NEW YORK, 9 April (UNFPA) -- As fighting continued today in Iraq, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), called on all parties to the conflict to fulfil their obligation to protect civilian lives. Pregnant women in particular are increasingly in danger, the Fund warned, as local hospitals reportedly struggle to cope with large numbers of war casualties and medical supplies run low.

The International Committee of the Red Cross reported today, for example, that one Baghdad hospital was admitting 100 war-wounded patients per hour, and that the 650-bed Medical City hospital complex had neither water nor power and only 6 out of 27 operating theatres could still be used.

According to news reports, miscarriages, premature deliveries and Caesarean sections have risen sharply since the start of the conflict. Even before the war, pregnant Iraqis faced unacceptable levels of risk, according to the UNFPA. Over a decade of war and international sanctions have severely damaged the Iraqi health care system, while increasing poverty and poor nutrition have gravely undermined women’s health. Maternal mortality has more than tripled.

Every day, an estimated 2,000 women usually give birth in Iraq, one fifth of them in Baghdad. Even under normal circumstances, some 300 Iraqi women would require emergency obstetric care. The disruption of food distribution and access to water and electricity has further endangered the lives of these women. Under these conditions, as hospital capacity is overwhelmed and mothers are unable to receive the emergency care they need, many may become indirect casualties of a conflict that has already claimed so many civilian lives.

The UNFPA is the world’s largest multilateral source of population assistance, with programmes in about 150 countries. Since it became operational in 1969, the Fund has provided sustained assistance to developing countries to address their population and development needs.

For more information, please contact the UNFPA, New York: William Ryan, tel.: +1 (212) 297-5279, e-mail: ryanw@unfpa.org. For more information on the UNFPA, please visit its Web site at www.unfpa.org.

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