Day 345: Birth Defects - The Shame of our Generation

Fallujah, Iraq - While the US military has formally withdrawn from Iraq, doctors and residents of Fallujah are blaming weapons like depleted uranium and white phosphorous used during two devastating US attacks on Fallujah in 2004 for what are being described as "catastrophic" levels of birth defects and abnormalities.
Dr Samira Alani, a paediatric specialist at Fallujah General Hospital, has taken a personal interest in investigating an explosion of congenital abnormalities that have mushroomed in the wake of the US sieges since 2005.
"We have all kinds of defects now, ranging from congenital heart disease to severe physical abnormalities, both in numbers you cannot imagine," Alani told Al Jazeera at her office in the hospital, while showing countless photos of shocking birth defects.
As of December 21, Alani, who has worked at the hospital since 1997, told Al Jazeera she had personally logged 677 cases of birth defects since October 2009. Just eight days later when Al Jazeera visited the city on December 29, that number had already risen to 699.
"There are not even medical terms to describe some of these conditions because we've never seen them until now," she said. "So when I describe it all I can do is describe the physical defects, but I'm unable to provide a medical term."

'Incompatible with life'

Most of these babies in Fallujah die within 20 to 30 minutes after being born, but not all.
Four-year-old Abdul Jaleel Mohammed was born in October 2007. His clinical diagnosis includes dilation of two heart ventricles, and a growth on his lower back that doctors have not been able to remove.
Abdul has trouble controlling his muscles, struggles to walk, cannot control his bladder, and weakens easily. Doctors told his father, Mohamed Jaleel Abdul Rahim, that his son has severe nervous system problems, and could develop fluid build-up in his brain as he ages, which could prove fatal.
"This is the first instance of something like this in all our family," Rahim told Al Jazeera. "We lived in an area that was heavily bombed by the Americans in 2004, and a missile landed right in front of our home. What else could cause these health problems besides this?"
Dr Alani told Al Jazeera that in the vast majority of cases she has documented, the family had no prior history of congenital abnormalities.
Alani showed Al Jazeera hundreds of photos of babies born with cleft palates, elongated heads, a baby born with one eye in the centre of its face, overgrown limbs, short limbs, and malformed ears, noses and spines.
She told Al Jazeera of cases of "thanatophoric dysplasia", an abnormality in bones and the thoracic cage that "render the newborn incompatible with life".
Rahim said many of his relatives that have had babies after 2004 are having problems as well.
"One of them was born and looks like a fish," Rahim said. "I also personally know of at least three other families who live near us who have these problems also."
For now, the family is worried how Abdul will fare in school when he is enrolled next year. Maloud Ahmed Jassim, Abdul's grandfather, added, "We've seen so many miscarriages happen, and we don't know why."
"The growth on his back is so sensitive and painful for him," Rahim said. "What will happen in school?"
Jassim is angered by a lack of thorough investigations into the health crisis.
"Why is the government not investigating this," he asked. "Western media seem interested, but neither our local media nor the government are. Why not?"
In April 2011, Iraqi lawmakers debated whether the US attacks on the city constituted genocide. Resolutions that called for international prosecution, however, went nowhere.

Scientific proof

Alani, along with Dr Christopher Busby, a British scientist and activist who has carried out research into the risks of radioactive pollution, collected hair samples from 25 parents of families with children who have birth defects and sent them to a laboratory in Germany for analysis.
Alani and Busby, along with other doctors and researchers, published a study in September 2011 from data obtained by analysing the hair samples, as well as soil and water samples from the city.
Mercury, Uranium, Bizmuth and other trace elements were found.

The report's conclusion states:
"Whilst caution must be exercised about ruling out other possibilities, because none of the elements found in excess are reported to cause congenital diseases and cancer except Uranium, these findings suggest the enriched Uranium exposure is either a primary cause or related to the cause of the congenital anomaly and cancer increases. Questions are thus raised about the characteristics and composition of weapons now being deployed in modern battlefields."

"As doctors, we know Mercury, Uranium and Bismuth can contribute to the development of congenital abnormalities, and we think it could be related to the use of prohibited weapons by the Americans during these battles," Alani said... - Al Jazeera

Birth defects caused by human stupidity and arrogance is nothing new. It seems that humans have always been stupid and arrogant in one way or another - it just normally turns out that those who are especially stupid and arrogant are not the ones who pay the price - no, that is left to the innocents. Babies born broken and twisted, children killed in battles and airstrikes, animals annihilated, burnt alive, starved... You never hear about a CEO having a hard time.

Do we continue to be stupid and arrogant because we have realised that if we are more stupid and arrogant than everyone else we'll have an exceptionally pleasant life? Or does it have more to do with the avoidance of unpleasant consequences: we see that extreme stupidity and arrogance is seldom punished, so we figure that that is our best bet at getting through this nightmare of a life in one piece?

Those of us who have been lucky enough to have been born into a life of opportunities do not often develop ourselves to be selfless and solution-oriented. Look around at everyone you know who lives a nice, comfortable life. As long as we feel happy and like our life is going well, then we see nothing wrong with the world. Yeah, sure, there's some horrible stuff that happens, but it is happening far away and there's nothing we can do about it anyway other than give some money to a charity that wants to "do some good" without actually fixing the root cause of the evil in the world. We may be in a position to improve the lives of others, but we don't.

Then on the other hand, if we take a look at those of us who were unlucky enough to be born into a crap life with no happy future, we'll be so preoccupied with trying to survive and stay alive that there simply is no thinking of making a change. Every person I have known who was born into poverty and doomed to live the rest of their lives in poverty (and I live in South Africa, so I have met many of these people) are content to simply get enough money from someplace to buy enough alcohol to forget their lives - there is not even a thought of "life shouldn't be this terrible" - it is simply accepted that this is their lot in life and that it can and will never change. Many of them will even thank their God for what little scrap of a life they have - as if God will save them... one day.

We have such a capacity to develop ourselves to help others and improve the quality of all of our lives - what does it say about us that we choose instead to maim and kill?