by Ricardo Grassi
(IPS) ROME --
war in Iraq has made the entire population of 27 million dependent on food aid, leaders of aid programs say.
Before the war that the U.S. and Britain launched March 20 to remove the Saddam Hussein regime, 60 percent of the population had depended entirely on food aid.
"Today, the lives of 100 percent of the Iraqi population, 27 million people, depend on the provision of monthly food rations," UNICEF chief representative in Iraq Carel de Roy told IPS in a phone interview.
The United Nations WFP (World Food Program) chief representative in Baghdad Torben Due says the crisis is unprecedented. "To avoid a food crisis in the country we have initiated the largest emergency operation in the 40 years history of the WFP," he told IPS in an interview on email from Baghdad.
The situation was bad enough before the war. A WFP survey of the southern and central provinces then showed not only that 60 percent of the population depends on food aid but that one in five Iraqis were living in chronic poverty. The results of the survey were announced last week.
Chronic poverty was defined by WFP as conditions in which an individual or a family cannot meet essential needs of food, water, clothing, shelter, health and basic education over a long period.
The southern and central regions of Iraq covered by the WFP survey are home to 22.3 million Iraqis. But the situation was little better in the north.
A report by the international charity 'Save the Children' was quoted in the WFP survey as saying that most people in the north depended on free food rations through the public distribution system. "Most households are extremely vulnerable to external shocks - they have limited (if any) capacity to expand to other coping strategies and economic activities," the report was quoted as saying.
The WFP now says that "two months of instability and war have most likely made their ability to cope with an already deteriorating situation much worse." Across the country, it says, vulnerability to poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition have most likely risen over the past two months.
The war halted income-generating activities for many Iraqis, the WFP report says, "as more pressing concerns such as personal safety and survival took precedence." The report points out that many shops and private sector businesses remain shut, and that many government employees have not been paid for the past few months.
The 1980-88 war with Iran, the two Gulf wars and the economic sanctions between them, and failing economic policies have impoverished a majority of the Iraqi people "and reduced them to relying heavily on free food handouts," says Due.
Carol de Roy says the sanctions empowered Saddam's regime, and weakened the population. "There is no question about it," de Roy says. "The food issue is clear evidence."
The setbacks of the nineties came after considerable progress. A survey conducted by the University of Harvard in 1991 after the first Gulf War noted that the percentage of people with access to safe drinking water had risen from 66 per cent in 1975 to 87 percent by 1987. By that year, 93 percent of the population was covered by free health services.
The sanctions were eased in the late nineties to allow Iraq to buy food against oil exports. Now again "in the short and medium term the food needs will have to be covered through import financed by revenues from the oil export," Due says. In the long term, "Iraq has an important agricultural potential that could be activated though massive investments in the agricultural sector."
Long term solutions need to be based on" a thorough analysis that takes into consideration the current high level of dependency on food rations," Due says. "A solid knowledge base covering poverty, malnutrition, food security, social welfare and other related issues will be needed to have an informed dialogue on the best policies to follow."
The new Collegial Provisional Authority (CPA, headed by U.S.) that is responsible for administrative matters, he says, "is receptive to the points of view of WFP."
Food assistance to the Iraqi population is assured for the next five months. The WFP has received almost $500 million in donation for the food aid program. The U.S. and Britain, which led the invasion of Iraq are the largest food donors, Due says.
But disbursement is not easy. "The security situation is the most serious concern, as it makes it difficult to operate in some areas of the country," he says. The U.S. and British forces controlling Iraq are under increasing attack from Iraqi opposition forces.
Food supplies are being hampered also by poor communication. The offices of the Ministry of Trade were destroyed in the war, and this has restricted communications between Baghdad and the rest of Iraq, Due says.
June 30, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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