Report paints grim picture of Iraqi life
(CNN) -- In the wake of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the country still struggles with high unemployment, inconsistent utility services and widespread poverty, a joint survey from the Iraqi government and United Nations indicates.
Released Thursday, the report from Iraq's Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation and the U.N. Development Program in Iraq surveyed nearly 22,000 households in the country's 18 provinces during 2004.
Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. program's resident representative for Iraq, said Thursday that the "Iraqi people are suffering. They are going through a very difficult time. We knew it, but now it's been proven."
While there has been progress since Saddam Hussein's fall, "these data depict a very tragic picture of the quality of life," Iraqi transitional Planning Minister Barham Salih said.
Salih said the mismanagement of Saddam's government and his regime's internal conflicts and those with its neighbors took a toll that spared no sector of the country's infrastructure.
"Saddam Hussein has left us a wasteland," Salih said. "This country could have been the economic powerhouse of the Middle East."
The survey estimated that the minimum number of war-related deaths ranges from 18,000 to 29,000 and is probably higher.
The report said the survey didn't attempt to count entire families who died and therefore underestimates the total number of people killed.
Children under 18 accounted for 12 percent of the deaths, the report said, while the information on infant mortality and malnutrition shows that "the suffering of children due to war and conflict in Iraq is not limited to those directly wounded or killed by military activities."
The information about deaths was "derived from a question posed to households concerning missing and dead persons during the two years prior to the survey. Although the date was not asked for, it is reasonable to suppose that the vast majority of deaths due to warfare occurred after the beginning of 2003."
Children also are affected by widespread malnutrition. About 43 percent of boys and girls between the ages of 6 months and 5 years suffer from some form of the condition -- chronic, general or acute malnutrition.
While Iraq's unemployment figures were high, the survey found that most eligible workers -- excluding the military -- were able to keep the jobs they had held since before March 2003.
Iraq's unemployment rate was 10.5 percent of a population of 27 million people, the report found. When the figure of workers who had given up looking for a job -- discouraged workers -- was included, the unemployment number increased to 18.4 percent.
Most of the unemployed were people who were looking for their first jobs, the report found.
De Mistura, the U.N. representative, said Iraqis have done well to maintain services, but he said delivery of utilities such as water, sewage, sanitation and electricity hasn't been consistent.
"Although a large percentage of the population in Iraq is connected to water, electricity and sewage networks, the supply is too unstable to make a difference to their lives," he said in a news release.
According to the survey, 98 percent of Iraqi households are connected to the national electricity grid, but only 15 percent find the supply stable.
As for water availability, the figures were 78 percent (had water) and 66 percent (had problems).
Household income falls
More than a fourth of Iraqis surveyed described themselves as being poor and 96 percent said they receive monthly food rations under the public food system set up through the oil-for-food program.
The median income in Iraq was equivalent to about $255 (366,000 dinars) in 2003 and decreased in the first half of 2004 to about $144 (207,000 dinars).
The report indicated it was difficult to come up with concrete numbers from prior years to indicate the movement of wages.
"However, most observers agree that, due to a combination of wars, sanctions and economic mismanagement, the average Iraqi household probably has lower real income today than in 1980," the report said.
The survey said the largest declines were in the central Iraqi provinces, including Baghdad.
In terms of poverty, the survey looked at subjective measures. About one in six respondents to the survey said they were unable to buy one of six items listed (new clothes, heating, etc.)
De Mistura said the survey should help the Iraqi government develop a plan to improve living conditions.