September 24, 2003 (ENS): Nearly half of the
26.3 million Iraqis are estimated to be poor and in
need of food assistance says a report published today
by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
(FAO) and the World Food Program (WFP). Northern Iraq
is doing much better than any other part of the country.
The situation of mothers and children in central and
southern Iraq is of particular concern warn the agencies
in their food supply and nutrition assessment mission
report. In the northern governorates, acute malnutrition
has been virtually eliminated.
The World Food Programme estimates that 3.5 million
Iraqi people will need supplementary food at a cost
of $51 million in 2004. Food supplements are most needed
for malnourished children, their family members and
pregnant and nursing mothers, the WFP said.
Despite the lifting of economic sanctions, and a 22
percent better cereal harvest this year than in 2002,
the two UN agencies report that some 60 percent of the
Iraqi population is unemployed and depends largely on
public food rations, financed through the oil-for-food-program.
The mission's report recognizes the need to continue
the public food distribution system and relief food
aid activities for the short to medium term, because
the agriculture sector will need considerable time for
"However, the highly subsidized food basket policy
must be rethought and better targeted; it should eventually
be gradually phased out," the report said.
The effects of war, economic sanctions and three years
of severe drought, from 1999 to 2001, have eroded the
base of livelihoods for Iraqis. "Any significant
disruption of the public distribution system would have
a severe negative impact on food access," the FAO/WFP
Recent military and political incidents have had "a
limited impact" on winter cereal crops, the agencies
say, but the sowing of summer cereals and industrial
crops such as cotton, sunflower seeds, have been affected.
The capacity to produce fertilizer nationally has been
seriously reduced, UN assessment teams found. Two fertilizer
factories are apparently not working, which raises the
question of where next year's fertilizers will come
from. The report says about 600,000 tons of fertilizers
are needed for cereals alone next year.
"While starvation has been averted, chronic malnutrition
persists among several million vulnerable people, including
some 100,000 refugees and around 200,000 internally
displaced people," the assessment says.
"Prices in the market have either doubled or tripled
since March," Basra resident Luma Hussein told
workers from the World Food Programme.
"We only have enough food to last a week - small
quantities of rice, flour and some beans," Hussein
said. "We did get the August food ration before
the war but there was no wheat flour."
Water availability and sanitation are major problems
for post-war Iraq. The report says that now a daily
maximum of 70 liters of water per person is available
to the five million inhabitants of Baghdad. "The
situation is worse in the southern cities."
Although this year's cereal production in Iraq is forecast
at 4.12 million metric tons, 22 percent higher than
estimated in 2002, the two UN food agencies are calling
for urgent rehabilitation of Iraqi agriculture and the
provision of immediate food supplies to hungry Iraqis.
"Production increased mainly due to favorable
rains in the North, increased irrigation and timely
distribution of agricultural inputs in the main producing
areas," according to the report, which said livestock
conditions are "stable in most parts of the country,"
with good pastures in the north and grain availability.
The agencies estimate Iraq will have to import 3.44
million metric tons of grains in the 12 months from
June 2003 to July 2004. Only 244,000 tons of that total
will be covered food aid pledges.
"To the greatest extent possible, any additional
food aid needs should be procured locally to support
farmer's incomes and local prices," the agencies
The mission recommended that the returns from oil sales
be used for the development of the Iraqi economy through
the recently established Development Fund for Iraq with
"due consideration given to the agricultural sector."
FAO said that substantial assistance is required to
rehabilitate agricultural infrastructure, including
irrigation and local industrial agriculture, and to
revitalize technical support structures and services.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2003. All Rights