Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat- By simply taking a quick tour through the streets of Baghdad, any observer cannot help but notice Iraq’s large disabled community, many of whom are reduced to begging after suffering great hardships following the loss of limbs. The Iraqi disabled community has increased greatly as a result of the violence and wars seen in Iraq, and the huge number of landmines deployed throughout the country. Despite the discrepancies in the reports published by governmental bodies and organizations with regards to the actual size of the Iraqi disabled community, a momentary look through the streets of Baghdad confirm that the majority of disability cases in Iraq are as a result of the wars.
A study conducted by the Disabled Peoples’ International [DPI] in collaboration with the Iraqi Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Health said that there are more than one million disabled people in Iraq, suffering varying degrees of disability. The study also stated that the sheer magnitude of the crisis in Iraq with regards to the daily cases of violence and bombings seen over the past few years has left a considerable number of people afflicted with disability, not to mention those who suffered a disability during the numerous wars that took place in the past two decades.
This study revealed that 1 out of every 25 Iraqi citizens is disabled. The study also said that the Iraqi Institute for the Rehabilitation of Disabled War Victims – which is part of the Iraqi Ministry of Health – treats 43,600 people who suffered disability as a result of war. The study said that 5,600 of these people suffer from severe disability. The study also revealed that [in addition to this] the Institute for the Rehabilitation of Disabled War Victims deals with 100,000 citizens who have lost limbs, and more than 100,000 citizens who have lost their sight, in addition to 205,000 citizens who have suffered reduced vision or may lose their sight in the future.
Reports issued by local humanitarian organizations reveal that many disabled Iraqis also suffer from psychological disorders, and that such disorders undoubtedly affect their private lives. These reports say that in the case of an individual suddenly finding himself no longer the family bread-winner but a total dependent, this potentially results in frustration and anger.
In a previous statement to the press, Jasseb Latif, an official at the Rehabilitation Institute of the Iraqi Ministry of Health, said that there are more than one million Iraqi citizens who suffered a disability as a result of war and recent acts of violence. He added that the Ministry of Health has provided the Iraqi disabled community with tens of thousands of prosthetic limbs over the past few years, as well as medical, psychological, and social rehabilitation in order to help disabled individuals secure their living requirements. Other statements by the Ministry of Health contend that there has been a 30 percent increase in the size of the Iraqi disabled community following 2003.
The head of the Iraqi Handicapped and Survivors Society, Moaffak al-Khafaji, confirmed in the last report issued by the society that some assistance was being provided to around 60,000 severely disabled citizens, and that it is impossible for this assistance to be provided to other disabled citizens as a result of a lack of funding from the government and international organizations.
The director of the Iraqi Mine and Unexpected Ordnance Clearance Organization [IMCO] Zahim Jihad Muttar told Asharq Al-Awsat that almost 25 million landmines are still present on Iraqi soil, and that around 800,000 Iraqis have suffered disability due to exploding landmines. Muttar also talked about his latest visit to the al-Qa’em district in Basra, where he revealed that 47 people were recently afflicted with disabilities due to exploding landmines, while a number of others were killed.
Muttar also revealed that according to UN estimates, the Iraqi disabled community has a population of 300,000, and that each year there are between 15,000 and 20,000 cases of death or amputation as a result of the ongoing armed conflict and land mines planted in Iraq during previous wars. Muttar estimated that 80 percent of this figure suffered disability as a result of exploding landmines after normal life had returned to Iraqi towns and villages. Muttar also told Asharq Al-Awsat that in the Kurdistan region alone around 60,000 people were afflicted with a disability between 1991 and 2004, and that the number of people disabled in Iraq overall during this same period stood at around 800,000 people.
Asharq Al-Awsat sources in the cities of Amarah, Basra, and Baghdad confirmed that explosions and exploding landmines resulted in 5 out of every 10 victims suffering a disability. In other words, half of blast victims suffer a disability. Muttar declared that the landmines left over from previous wars were the major cause for the increasing disability rate in Iraq. He said that land should be cleared of all landmines through collaboration between governmental bodies and anti-landmine organizations.
Dr. Ali al-Alaq, a specialist in orthopedics and physiotherapy, believes that “victims of mine do not only suffer from chronic physical disability, but also from profound psychological effects; most of them believe that they are unable to do anything, or believes that they have become a burden on everybody, and so they become depressed and lose any hope in the future.”
For his part, Iraqi Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Mahmoud al-Sheikh Radhi, said that his ministry is determined to overcome all social, economic, and psychological issues affecting Iraq’s disabled community. Radhi said that aiding the Iraqi disabled community is more than a professional duty and is part of humanitarian work, and it is this attitude that has brought back hope to the disable community in Iraq.
Studies carried out by disability specialists indicate that 30 percent of Iraq’s disabled community suffered their disability after 2003 as a result of the violence that swept the country following the US invasion and the collapse of the former regime. Estimates of Iraq’s disabled community vary; some groups and individuals say that the population of this community stands at over 3 million, while others argue that it is between one and two million. In contrast to this, governmental sources deny such figures and accuse the media of publishing inaccurate figures.
The head of the Iraqi Handicapped and Survivors Society, Moaffak al-Khafaji, who is also vice-president of the Arab Organization of Disabled People [AODP] said that the number of disabled people in Iraq stands at no less than 3 million. In a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, al-Khafaji said that disabled Iraqis are being marginalized and disregarded. He also spoke of his disappointment in the position of Iraqi officials on this issue, saying that no assistance is being offered to the Iraqi disabled community. .
The US based Mercy Corps organization stated that a census conducted in Iraq in 1977 revealed that 9 percent of Iraq’s then 12 million population suffered from a disability, meaning that in 1977 Iraq had a disabled community of almost one million people. Today the Iraqi government estimates the overall Iraqi population to stand at around 30 million. Mercy Corps spokesperson Tiana Tozer said “If you take into account that Iraq has been at war since 1977, the Iran-Iraq war, the American bombings, sanctions, all of which have contributed to more people becoming disabled, 2.7 million or 10 percent of the population is a conservative estimate.”
The Iraqi government says that it is unable to deal with such a large disabled community. The Iraqi Ministry of Health has just 21 rehabilitation centers and 12 prosthetic labs, and it is unable to open more due to a lack of doctors and specialists. The government also says that only a quarter of amputees who are in need of artificial limbs have received them as a result of the unavailability of raw materials.
Observers believe that the establishment of a national organization for the Iraqi disabled community is a necessity, as this would guarantee comprehensive coordination between all parties concerned with serving the disabled community, as well as raising awareness of their rights. This is particularly important with regards to putting forward fair laws with regards to healthcare and labor, and also with regards to issues such as salary, increased mobility, rehabilitation, training, housing, and the tax system. This is not to mention encouraging the private sector to hire disabled employment candidates, as well as providing schooling and higher education opportunities to disabled students.
Governmental bodies are also working towards reducing the psychological obstacles faced by the disabled community, setting up sports academies and institutions and arranging sporting tournaments. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has issued a specialist new guide for institutes catering for the disabled. The director of the supervisory department of the Educational Division for People with Special Needs, Jihan Fatah, said that this guide contains an introduction to international law relating to Paralympics sports, as well as methods of training for all categories of disabled people, together with a medical classification of sports practiced by people with special needs.
She added that the Division would make this guide accessible to all institutes for the disabled; there are 17 institutes for the mentally challenged and 29 institutes for the physically disabled across Iraq. Fatah also noted that the guide included useful information and instruction in athletics, table tennis, football, and other sports. She said that this guide was prepared by relying on sources from the Iraqi National Paralympics committee with regards to physical disabilities, and the Special Olympics as for mental disabilities, in addition to a book titled “The Teacher’s guide to Physical Education” which is issued by the Iraqi Ministry of Education.