Ahead of the 25th anniversary of the chemical weapons attack on the northern Iraqi town of Halabja, Green Cross Switzerland is calling for an official study to be conducted into the lingering health impacts felt by people of the region.
From 16-18 March 1988, the former regime of Saddam Hussein targeted the ethnic Kurdish population of Halabja with deadly chemical weapons. An estimated 5,000 people were killed, and several thousand more were severely harmed.
Today, the city and region of Halabja are characterized by unemployment, poverty, underdevelopment, and lack of clinical facilities to help people affected by the attacks. Since early 2008, Green Cross Switzerland, in collaboration with the Society for Threatened Peoples projects, has encouraged the further development of the Wadi Organization in northern Iraq to help bring refuge to the region. The Wadi Organization works to protect women’s rights and reduce domestic violence while helping them find employment.
“One of the strengths of the Green Cross’ activities in Iraq is their mobile teams which bring regular guidance and medical advice to villages often isolated from the region. This helps local communities gain knowledge plus a sense of independence,” according to Nathalie Gysi, Executive Director of Green Cross Switzerland. “Training courses and educational resources, where women are informed about their rights, health problems, education of children, and long-term consequences of toxic gases are also critical.”
This work is done in collaboration with women’s centers initiated by Wadi at Biara and Halabja. Since 2008, Wadi has helped 28,957 women in this way. Part of the initiative is a creative and interactive bus that travels from village to village, teaching children proper hygiene habits, ensuring them a better future, and further exposing them to other important topics to help them lead healthy lives. Equipped with a library, musical instruments and lots of games, this fun bus is also accompanied by social workers and health professionals who are trained to supply such services. These professionals have so far reached 12,150 children in the Kurdish region traumatized by the attacks of chemical weapons and provided them a foundation of tools to live healthy lives.
Since the chemical weapons attacks a quarter of a century ago, Halabja has reportedly recorded high miscarriage and birth defect rates in newborns, as well as having documented higher cancer rates compared to regions unaffected by chemical weapons. Scientists have claimed that food, drinking water, soil, and livestock in the Halabja region are still contaminated by the toxic gases exposed in 1988. Other health challenges recorded include high incidence of severe respiratory problems, skin and eye diseases, infertility, and mental illness.
Due to these lingering signs, Green Cross Switzerland believes a study should be launched on the environmental health impacts and use of chemical weapons in Halabja. Findings of such a study could provide certainty on the actual state of their environment, and provide information on potential risks and ways to mitigate them.
Green Cross Switzerland works to fight the consequential damages of industrial and military disasters, and also the lingering burdens of the Cold War. Its primary goal is to work towards improving the quality of life of people affected by chemical contamination, radioactivity and other forms of toxic pollution, as well as promoting sustainable development practices, while emphasizing cooperation rather than confrontation.
Green Cross International (GCI), founded by President Mikhail Gorbachev, is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2013. It is an independent non-profit and nongovernmental organization working to address the inter-connected global challenges of security, poverty eradication and environmental degradation through advocacy and local projects. GCI is headquartered in Geneva and has a network of national organizations in around 30 countries.