Global WACh

November 3, 2014

Birth Defects in Iraq: The Consequences of War

iraqtalkOn October 27th, Global WACh co-sponsored a series of presentations entitled: “Birth Defects in Iraq: The Consequences of War.”  Dr. Muhsin Al-Sabbak, an obstetrician at Basra Maternity Hospital and Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, an environmental toxicologist, shared their knowledge of the devastating effects of war on the children of Iraq.

Dr. Al-Sabbak began by describing his experiences as a physician in Iraq, followed by statistics and figures to help the audience understand the gravity of the situation. One of the more impactful statistics was the rate of birth defects, which in 1995 stood at 1.37 per 1,000 births and in 2003 had risen to 23 per 1,000 births. There has been an estimated increase of 60% in the last decade. He shared pictures and stories from his hospital about the children born there with life threatening defects. “I have thousands of these pictures,” he said, later revealing his own personal tragedy of his young nephew who had died from Leukemia, likely as a result of the environmental poisoning.

Mozhgan Savabieasfahani spoke next, explaining the causes of the environmental pollution in more detail. The main issue, she says is the waste from weapons, explosives, and munitions left by the US military in “burn pits” the size of football fields. Iraqi citizens are exposed to chemicals and toxins, often distributed by dust storms in the area, and the effects may be shown for generations to come.

Iraqi mothers and children are not the only ones in danger. Many U.S. soldiers came home with ailments directly related to the negligence associated with these burn pits, and some are even seeking justice. This gives Savabieasfahani hope that one day accountability will drive cleanup efforts.

“We will keep reaching out to people like you,” she said, emphasizing the need for word to spread. Both Al-Sabbak and Savabieasfahani have been on a speaking tour in the U.S. in hope that the issue will gain more attention.

The two also spoke at an event at UW on October 24th entitled “Environmental Poisoning of Iraq: Why Academics Must Speak Out.” Here is the video.