Van Velzen: Netherlands should take responsibility for costs of Halabja medical project

15 March 2006

Van Velzen: Netherlands should take responsibility for costs of Halabja medical project

The SP has asked Minister for Development Cooperation Agnes van Ardenne to take over the financing of a medical project for Kurdish poison gas victims from the small town of Halabja. An initiative of the regional administration, the University of Liverpool and several aid organisations, the project is threatened with closure through lack of funds. Commenting on the situation, SP Member of Parliament Krista van Velzen said “The Netherlands has a special responsibility in relation to these poison gas victims, as the ingredients for the gas came from a Dutch source. With a fairly modest contribution we could keep the project going and demonstrate our commitment.”

Krista van VelzenNext Thursday it will be just eighteen years ago that the Kurdish village of Halabja was bombarded with chemical weapons, the first in a series of around 200 attacks in the area. In Halabja alone 5000 people died. The survivors live every day with the results of these onslaughts, results which include birth defects, high rates of infant mortality, leukaemia, nervous disorders and heart disease. A small-scale British project which is attempting to reduce the incidence of birth defect is threatened this month with closure through shortage of funds. Ms Van Velzen is asking the government to intervene to prevent this.

The project has succeeded in acquiring valuable knowledge while providing victims with health care . This is an excellent initiative which has cost around € 100.000 euro per annum. Infant mortality has been targeted, while the distribution of folic acid has reduced birth defects. Cases of cancer have been detected and where possible treated. Alongside the provision of folic acid which is difficult to obtain in that part of the world, scientific research has been conducted into its effects during pregnancy, in particular in the case of individuals affected by chemical substances from poison gas attacks.

Ms Van Velzen said that “It would be extremely unfortunate if this research and the support that goes along with it were to end because of a lack of funds. Health care throughout Iraq and specifically in the Kurdish area is problematic, and if this project ends aid to victims of poison gas attacks will end with it. The Netherlands would, by providing the necessary financial support, be making an extremely welcome gesture in the direction of the Kurdish people.”

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