WFP announced the results today of an unprecedented survey in Iraq which concludes that some 6.5 million people - 25 percent of the entire population - remain highly dependent on food rations and are therefore vulnerable.
According to WFP's Baseline Food Security Assessment, the first of its kind in Iraq, of these 6.5 million people, some 2.6 million are so poor that they have to resell part of their food rations to buy basic necessities such as medicines and clothes. A further 3.6 million Iraqis, 14 percent of the population, would become food insecure if the rationing system was discontinued.
The survey was conducted during the second half of last year against a background of potential policy reforms of the state-run Public Distribution System (PDS), which provides the monthly food rations to most of Iraq's population. It covered 95 districts and 28,500 households in the 15 centre/south governorates as well as the governorate of Sulaymaniyah. Iraq's Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation/Central Statistics Office and Ministry of Health/Nutrition Research Institute collaborated.
The results show that despite the PDS, the prevalence of extreme poverty is high in rural areas, particularly among women and children. The study adds that around 27 percent of all children up to the age of five are chronically malnourished. Without the current PDS, this number would increase dramatically, the survey adds.
"The political environment before the war made it impossible to analyse the level of poverty and hunger in the country," explained Torben Due, Country Director for WFP's operations in Iraq. "For the first time, we are getting an accurate picture of people's access to food. As a result, we are much better able to plan assistance."
Years of international sanctions and nearly two decades of wars have destroyed Iraq's economy. Today's security situation is hampering effective social and economic recovery.
"Despite receiving food rations from Iraq's Public Distribution System, these people are still struggling to cope," said Due. "Although food is generally available, the poorest households cannot afford to buy from the markets."
Following the survey, WFP has launched a one-year emergency operation costing US$60 million, targeting the most vulnerable groups in Iraq. The operation will support these groups by providing 67,000 metric tons of food to: 220,000 malnourished children and their family members (over 1.1 million), more than 1.7 million primary school children, 350,000 pregnant and lactating mothers and over 6,000 tuberculosis patients.
"Iraq is a country with a wealth of natural resources. Once it stabilises politically and economically it can take care of this portion of the population. But until that happens, external assistance will be required," said Due.
Under the emergency operation, WFP is also working to strengthen national institutions connected with food security. For example, it is training Iraqis to carry out their own food security assessments in the future.
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