Iraq is experiencing a "public health catastrophe" that has more than doubled the death rate among children and will kill at least 170,000 Iraqis under age 5 in the coming year, a report said Tuesday.

A Harvard University study of the aftermath of the Persian Gulf war found Iraq's medical facilities, water and sewage treatment plants and electrical power installations devastated and the effects on health already apparent."This study documents a public health catastrophe," said the report, funded by the McArthur Foundation and seven other groups.

"These projections are conservative. In all probability, the actual number of deaths of children under 5 will be much higher. While children under 5 were the focus of this study, a large increase in deaths among the rest of the population is also likely," it said.

"Contrary to the statement of both the Iraqi government and Western journalists that the health situation is stable and will continue to improve, the study team finds that the state of medical care is desperate and unless conditions change substantially - will continue to deteriorate in every region," it said.

A team of three doctors, a public health specialist, two lawyers and four law students prepared the report after conducting "the first systematic and comprehensive on-site examination of public health in Iraq" since the war, they said.

The team had unlimited access and visited 11 major cities and smaller towns from April 28 to May 6, the report said.

The death rate among infants and children had already increased between twofold and threefold, the team found.

At the Saddam Central Teaching Hospital, for example, childhood deaths increased to 13.3 perent in January and February, compared with 3.9 percent during the same two months in 1990, the report said.

The team estimated that at least 55,000 more deaths than usual have occurred among children under age 5 and at least another 170,000 could be expected to die because of the "delayed effects" of the war, the report said.

Epidemics of gastroenteritis, cholera and typhoid began throughout Iraq in early 1991 and because the incidence of such water-borne diseases usually peaks during the hot summer months of June and July, they will probably worsen, the report said.

The diseases combine with severe malnutrition, which had been rare in Iraq but had become widespread, the report said. Food prices had jumped tenfold in some areas, the report said.

"The prevalence of malnutrition is so high as to indicate the real possibility of famine in Iraq if the food shortages are not relieved," it said.

These problems are complicated by substantial damage to basic infrastructure, such as water purification, sewage treatment and electrical power generation, the report said.