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IRAQ: Briefing paper on food security

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


An estimated 60 percent of Iraqi families depend entirely on the monthly food ration distributed under the Public Distribution System (PDS) managed by the Iraqi Ministry of Trade (MoT). The PDS was funded through the Oil-for-Food Programme (OFFP) between 1996 and until late last year, when the OFFP was discontinued.

The PDS was introduced by the Iraqi government 13 years ago. Under this system, since 1996 food, has been imported from abroad and was stored in MoT warehouses. Although estimates vary, the food basket had a monetary value in Iraq of roughly US $8 to 10 per person per month when under the OFFP.

The MoT distributed food to Iraqis in the central and southern region during the OFFP days. However, now the MoT distributes to all Iraqis, including the north, continuing under the PDS.

Prior to the closure of the OFFP, in the north, where the UN was mandated to implement OFFP activities on behalf of the Iraqi government, WFP was responsible for the collection of food from WFP-managed warehouses in Kirkuk and Mosul, its transport to Arbil, Sulaimaniyah and Dahuk governorates and distribution to beneficiaries.

However, it became clear that the PDS would be disrupted by the hostilities in 2003 and therefore WFP launched an emergency operation in order to ensure that food distribution to the vulnerable would continue. More than 2 million mt of food were delivered to Iraq in 2003 over a period of six months, making this the WFP's biggest humanitarian operation ever.

Although there is no recent information on how much of the population is still dependant on the rations since the fall of Saddam Hussein, preliminary results of a December 2003 WFP household survey indicate that 14.3 percent of the Iraqi population is "extremely poor" (those who spend less than US $35 per month on food) and 47 percent are "poor" (those who spend between $35 and $90 per month on food).

Today, nearly 27 million Iraqis nationwide continue to receive their food rations from over 40,000 distribution agents. The monthly 18 kg ration includes basic food commodities such as wheat flour, rice, sugar, pulses and vegetable oil.

Families use their food ration cards, distributed under the PDS, to receive a monthly ration.

Markets are full of fresh fruit, vegetables and meat but they are very expensive, and with unemployment at an estimated 50 percent or more, most families say they cannot afford to buy even the most basic items.

Although the OFFP was handed over to the Iraqi Ministry of Trade (MoT) and the US-led administration in November 2003, the WFP continued procurement of 1.6 million mt of food and dispatched commodities, after being asked by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and MoT who needed additional help. In addition to this, the food agency is still assisting, by training MoT staff.

WFP work is continuing in the country under the new UN Country Team strategy for 2004 and the agency is heading the Food Security Cluster and cooperating with UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) in nutrition and supplementary feeding programmes.

MoT and World Bank officials say they have discussed the possibility of "monetising" the PDS, so that families receive an estimated $20 per month, rather than a ration. However, Iraqi politicians argue that this will cause rapid inflation and families will not be able to afford even basic necessities.

Although malnutrition rates had fallen in the late 1990s, chronic malnutrition stands at 28.8 percent and acute malnutrition at 6.7 percent, according to the December 2003 WFP survey of the central and southern governorates.

Under the study, 24,600 households were interviewed, in both urban and rural districts, in order to establish the nutritional status of children between one and six years old.

The recent increased rates of malnutrition could be attributed to the 2003 conflict resulting in economic hardship, power cuts, unavailability of safe drinking water and security problems.


Food for 22 million people continues to be distributed through the PDS system by the MoT. The monthly food entitlement has continued but was disrupted in the city of Fallujah, some 50 km west of Baghdad, earlier this year following fighting between US forces and insurgents. However, food has been distributed there recently, after an end to fighting, according to WFP.

In the south, wheat-soy milk, vegetable oil, grains and sugar are given to 20,000 malnourished children and their families, or an estimated 80,000 people, according to WFP.

This is part of a targeted nutrition programme as chronic malnutrition stands at more than 22 percent in the south. Ministry of Health (MoH) officials say lack of nutritious food across the population contributes directly to basic health problems.

In total, WFP has 18 offices in the country to support the MoT and PDS. Immediately following the conflict, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) had a food specialist in Baghdad to support food operations and the MoT. Food specialists were also posted in Basra.

In addition, WFP, in collaboration with the MoT, initiated in March 2004 a pilot school-feeding project benefiting 105,000 students in seven governorates of centre/south Iraq.


WFP continues to support local authorities in the three governorates with school feeding activities targeting over 700,000 children aged between six and 13.

The MoT now handles 36,000 mt of food and non-food items monthly, which are distributed to 3.6 million people in the north. A special nutrition programme in the region distributes an additional 590 mt per month, leading to somewhat a better nutritional situation there.

In addition, the MoT continues to distribute food to 9,000 people at hospitals and orphanages. It also brings extra food to an additional 635,000 people, including 44,000 malnourished children, 41,000 pregnant mothers and 14,000 hospital patients.


Other recent IRAQ reports:

Tests continuing on contaminated wheat ,  11/May/05

Insurgents and criminals target doctors,  10/May/05

New campaign to control brucellosis,  9/May/05

Focus on child labour,  9/May/05

Divergent views over relationship between NGOs and Coalition,  4/May/05

Other recent Food Security reports:

DRC: UN decries insecurity, malnutrition in Kasai Oriental, 11/May/05

AFGHANISTAN: New radio soap promotes rural development, 11/May/05

ZIMBABWE: Country's key livestock sector needs support, says expert, 11/May/05

MALAWI: IMF to help with maize shortfall, 10/May/05

TAJIKISTAN: UN appeal already 50 percent funded, 10/May/05

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