When our Iraqi partners at OWFI visited the town of Haweeja last August, what they found there shocked them. Hundreds of children had been born with severe birth defects in a single generation. Children were born missing both fingers and toes, missing limbs, with heart abnormalities, and more.

The average rate of birth defects in a given population is 3 to 4%. In Haweeja, however, that number has skyrocketed. In some families, there are as many as four children born with disabilities. In addition, people across the area, especially young people, have developed aggressive forms of cancer.

Haweeja sits near a US military base that used a nearby field as an ammunitions site. Most of the birth defects and incidences of cancer occur in the areas closest to and directly downwind of the base. A similar situation in Fallujah led to the conclusion that US ammunitions, warfare and chemical weaponry were responsible for the health problems facing the population.

In Haweeja, local activists who have tried to draw attention to the situation have been harassed and even jailed. Over the next several weeks, MADRE will lay out a comprehensive strategy to begin addressing the issue. First, we must confront the pressing need for medical aid for the many children impacted by this injustice. But we must also build a movement to support the town of Haweeja and the families still waiting for answers.

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