Iraq's Bread Basket Stands to Be Ruined by War

ROME, Italy, April 3, 2003 - ENS: The war in Iraq could be devastating for the country's rural economy with consequences on farmers' capacity to produce food, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today. The winter grain harvest, set to begin in a few weeks, and the spring planting could both be affected.

The UN agency has launched a $86 million appeal to help meet the crisis. The FAO is appealing for more than $20 million for three emergency projects to secure the grain harvest and the spring and fall plantings. Six other emergency projects to protect the harvest, increase food production, prevent outbreaks of animal diseases, ensure water supplies in rural areas, and coordinate relief efforts will require the remaining $66 million.

Laurent Thomas, chief of FAO's Special Emergency Programmes Service, says the agency's primary concern is the approaching harvest of the winter wheat and barley crop, expected to begin in late April. It is estimated at between 1.5 and 1.7 million metric tons of grain.

"Loss of the winter harvest, especially in Iraq's northern bread basket provinces, which account for more than half of the country's entire cereal production, would further aggravate what is already a difficult situation," Thomas said. "All efforts have to be made to save this harvest throughout the country where access will be feasible, by making sure farmers are in position with their combine harvesters working, and fuel, spare parts and storage in place."

Planting for the irrigated spring crops of vegetable, maize [corn] and rice should be underway now. It must proceed on schedule so that Iraqis can receive an essential supply of the vitamins, proteins and micronutrients that are missing from food aid baskets which generally contain flour, oil, sugar, and beans, but not vegetables.

Some 60% of Iraq's 24.5 million people rely entirely for their daily sustenance on food baskets provided under the UN's Oil for Food Program, suspended since the war began.

The Oil for Food Program was restarted with a resolution adopted unanimously by the UN Security Council on March 28 that gives Secretary-General Kofi Annan temporary authority to facilitate the delivery and receipt of goods contracted by the government of Iraq for the humanitarian needs of its people.

The resolution is aimed at prioritizing and speeding the delivery of humanitarian goods and supplies already in the Oil for Food pipeline for Iraqis inside and outside the country, over the next 45 days.

Almost $27 billion worth of humanitarian supplies and equipment have been delivered to Iraq under the Oil for Food Program. An additional $10.1 billion worth of supplies are currently in the production and delivery pipeline.

The FAO, which is responsible for the agricultural component of the UN brokered oil for food exchange, said Iraq's farmers will need seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, machinery, fuel, spare parts and other tools to plant, harvest and secure current and future crops.

Animal feed, vaccines and medicines are needed for the farmers' livestock. The lack of veterinary services, vaccines, drugs and quarantine controls could result in the spread of animal diseases with serious economic impact in Iraq and possibly with impact on the whole region, the FAO says.

Veterinary checks on the border of neighboring countries and vaccination campaigns will be required to prevent outbreaks of animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease among the country's 1.5 million head of cattle and 18 million sheep and goats.

"These animals are the wealth of a large part of Iraq's rural population," said Thomas. "So if people move, they are going to take their animals with them, increasing the risk of animal diseases spreading within the country and possibly across borders."

Any disruption to the water supply, which provides both drinking water and irrigation, will damage crops and livestock production.

Provision has been made in the FAO appeal for pipes, pumps, drills and technical expertise required to set up emergency water supplies and repair damaged irrigation networks, if needed.

A $9.8 million project is designed to support the country's 4,000 poultry farms, another essential source of the animal proteins missing from the food basket.

Prior to the outbreak of the current conflict, Iraq was producing up to 155,000 metric tons of poultry meat and two billion eggs annually.

The war may displace people and cause loss of assets, damage to infrastructure, breakdown of communication networks and trade, as well as disruption of food production activities, the FAO warned.

Today UN Deputy Secretary-General, Louise Frchette and UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Ramiro da Silva, told the Security Council that the United Nations flash appeal launched on March 28, with a total requirement of $2.2 billion, already has pledges for $1.2 billion. The flash appeal is for funds to cover the next six months.

Members of the Security Council expressed concern regarding access of relief assistance to the Iraqi population. Frchette said that there are still 3,000 United Nations staff members on the ground and that deliveries are being carried out on a "pragmatic basis."

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) announced Wednesday that it is donating an additional $200 million to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) to purchase regional food aid for Iraq.

The cash contribution for 324,000 tons of regional food purchases will allow the aid to be positioned for distribution approximately two months sooner than if it were purchased in and shipped from the United States, USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios told reporters in Washington.

The food will be enough to feed 23 million people for one month, the time it is expected the United Nations will need to get the Oil for Food Program operational again in Iraq, Natsios said.

The new contribution is in addition to 200,000 tons of wheat that are being released from the Emerson Fund of donated food, including 28,000 tons that is scheduled to leave from Galveston, Texas today.

Natsios also announced $20 million in grants to nongovernmental organizations for humanitarian efforts in Iraq.

The United States is seeing "pockets of humanitarian need" but not "a massive humanitarian crisis" in Iraq, Natsios said. Nearly all US Disaster Assistance Response Team members are in place in the region - in Jordan, Cyprus, Qatar and Kuwait City - ready to enter Iraq to do needs assessments and planning as soon as it is safe to do so, he said. Some members were in the British controlled port city of Umm Qasr on April 1, he said.

US assistance personnel are coordinating closely with United Nations relief agencies and international NGOs, Natsios stressed.

Food for Peace has made available 610,000 metric tons of commodities valued at $300 million to ensure the that nutritional needs of the Iraqi people are satisfied.

The US Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration has contributed $36.6 million to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the International Organization for Migration for pre-positioning emergency relief supplies and staff and early humanitarian response.(Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2003. All Rights Reserved.

Editor's Note: On April 28, the FAO announced that based on preliminary reports it had determined at least one-third of Iraq's spring grain crop has emerged from the US-Iraq conflict unscathed. No conclusion has yet been reached on the remaining 1.2 million tons of wheat and barley. Reports were based on information received from national staff in Iraq.


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