'Children suffer most in the Iraqi sanctions'

Sr Elizabeth Lim, FMDM, who works in Amman, Jordan, talks about her mission-field and post Gulf-War experiences.

I AM glad to know that there are people back home who are concerned about those of us who are away from home. I am writing from a country where I have been on mission for the past five years.

The four of us in my community come from four countries -- Malaysia, Ireland, Philippines and Singapore. Our work in Jordan has been rather varied over the past few years as we respond to the marginalised and most needy in society.

Our presence in Jordan started in 1967. Initially, we worked in the Palestine Hospital and when the needs of the refugees became apparent, we responded and worked among them. Now we run a Primary Health Clinic for mothers and babies funded by the Pontifical Mission for Palestine. It is situated on the edge of the Zarqa Refugee Camp. The clinic has 11 staff.

The facilities and services we provide are ante-natal and post-natal care, vaccination, counselling, pharmaceutical and laboratory. Some of the very poor patients receive free medication. About 2,850 patients come to the clinic each month. In addition to the above, we also help out with food, medicine and school fees for poor families, widows and orphans.

The Gulf War in 1990 has called us to respond to another need -- the plight of the Iraqi people. After the war, our Sisters joined forces with other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in bringing consignments of food and water into Iraq.

Six years have gone by and economic sanctions are still being imposed on Iraq. Food, medicine and safe water are among a host of commodities which the Iraqi people are deprived of, not to mention spare parts, pencils and other items. In all of the hospital pharmacies, there is hardly any medicine on the shelves. Sometimes, there is not even a box of painkillers.

Last year, when I visited a hospital in the north of Iraq, I was told that they had to close the operating theatres because they were not able to obtain anaesthesia. There was hardly any food in the hospital and family members had to bring in food for their sick relatives. Where are the family members getting the food from when they are so deprived of food themselves?

A group that calls itself Voices in the Wilderness has been travelling to Iraq every couple of months bringing consignments of medicine and medical supplies. By bringing in these, the group is bringing some relief to the people in Iraq, especially the children who are dying at the rate of about 4,500 per month due to hunger and disease. What sins have the children committed to be dying because of economic sanctions?

The doctors commented that since the sanctions, they had not seen some of the medicines brought by the group. The group made four trips to Iraq last year. As a community, we assist the members of the Voices in the Wilderness in whatever way we can. Since it is not easy to enter Iraq, our main task is facilitating the purchase of medicines and medical supplies that the Voices in the Wilderness want to take there.

I will end with this question: What can each of us do to respond to the plight of the Iraqi people?