"Iraqi children today are much worse off than they were a year ago, and they certainly are worse off than they were three years ago," said Dan Toole, director of emergency programs for the United Nations Children's Fund.
He said Iraqis no longer have safe access to a government-funded food basket, established under Saddam Hussein to deal with international sanctions.
"Nutritional indicators, health access indicators are all changing for the worse," Toole said. The system of government-sponsored handouts -set up by Saddam's government to meet the basic needs of Iraqi citizens from 1991 to 2003, when the country was under U.N. sanctions - started to fall apart last year, Toole said.
Toole said that, because of the violence, mothers were too afraid to send their children to school or take them to health centers to get checkups and nutritional supplements.
While efforts are being made to maintain levels of immunization, particularly against measles and polio, UNICEF is worried about the possibility of a cholera epidemic because two-thirds of Iraqis lack clean water.
[Excerpt of an article by Frank Jordans, The Associated Press]