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[casi-analysis] food and aid - a rant

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[apologies: this rambles non-comprehensively across several topics. In my
defense, these are all important, under-discussed areas, and if I tried to
be comprehensive nobody would read it, because food production is really
boring. It's also been written in a rage, so don't trust my facts or

I've been doing a little reading on the food situation in Iraq, and what
I've found has been disturbing, and much worse than I'd thought. If you
think back a year or so, you'll remember that we were told that food
wasn't an immediate problem. Generally, upbeat media reports highlighted
the lack of impact on crops currently in the ground, and glossed over the
fact that the next season's crops weren't being planted, and that there
was a serious shortage of fertilizer.

Well, now all those ignored footnotes are coming back with a vengeance.The
FAO estimates (1) that 2004 cereal production is half of 2003 production.
This is partly as a result of problems last year (which we can't now do
much about). But they're also partly because of 'serious shortages of
fertilizers and other agricultural inputs'.

And this is having a real effect: it's killing children. A recent (and,
as far as I can tell, unpublished) report by the UNDP and a Norwegian
group (3) shows that child malnutrition is now running at 7.7%. This is
being mis-spun as a recent rise: in fact, UNICEF figures from April/May
2003 (4) suggest that the rate was already 7.7% then. But even with this
qualification, it's shocking that all the billions being poured into Iraq
haven't even started to deal with the most basic needs of the population.
To clarify what this means: something like 740,000 Iraqi children are
underfed to the extent that it's stunting their growth.

Isn't that something that international donors should be worrying about?
No: they're as bored with food as everyone else. What they want to play
with is the type of 'aid' that gives civil servants the fun intellectual
challenge of playing with an entire country, and lets the US and UK keep
their fingers on the mechanisms of government in Iraq.

EXHIBIT A: the DFID's Country Assistance Plan, released in February this
year (2). Food doesn't really figure in their plans (where it does, it's
outsourced to outside agencies. You have to show willing, but you don't
want to worry about such politically unimportant issues as making sure
Iraqis don't starve.) What really excites the DFID is the possibility of
getting their paws onto the central government of Iraq.

The DFID doesn't plan to give aid, it plans to 'support the development of
government policies and reforms that bring particular benefits to poor and
vulnerable groups'. And what reforms would those be? 'putting in place
policies, laws and regulations that encourage businesses to invest'. The
whole report is like that: go and read it if you don't believe me.

Now I suspect I'm one of the more market-friendly members of this list,
but even I don't think the best way to meet serious and urgent
humanitarian needs is by shipping SWAT teams of civil servants into
Baghdad to tell the puppet government what to do. Grrr...

EXHIBIT B is more recent. Announced yesterday, in fact. It's a payment
from the World Bank Trust Fund for reconstruction and development projects
(5). Of $145 million, $90m goes for "emergency projects in health, water
supply and sanitation, and reconstruction in urban centers". Fine. I won't
quibble with that. But the remaining $55 million? That's used to
'strengthen the financial and private sectors', primarily ($40m) by
building a new telecommunications network. They don't seem to see any
irony in strenghtening the private sector by subsidising it.

So the world bank's plan is not aid, it's toys: grand infrastructure
projects that won't directly help the poor, will most likely be handled by
non-Iraqi contractors and professionals, and will give the international
plutocracy control over Iraqi infrastructure. Incidentally, exhibit B.i,
if the court allows that, would be the previous grand from this fund: $7m
to train civil servants.

I've rambled a bit, so let me summarise: three quarters of a million Iraqi
children are underfed. It's not likely to get better, because nobody's
paying any attention to agriculture, and the food distribution system is a
shambles. But the big international donors don't care, because they see
aid as a means of keeping control of the government of Iraq.

Right. I'm going for a walk to calm down. I suspect that by tomorrow I'll
realise that I'm being grossly unfair to the wonderful people in DFID and
the world bank, or at least I'll find some figure I've got wrong.
Apologies in advance.

1. "Cereal production may be affected by serious shortages of fertilizers
and other agricultural inputs. The 2004 total cereal production has been
tentatively estimated at 2.4 million tonnes almost half of the previous
year's crop.

Despite the fact that all Iraqis continue to receive their monthly food
ration from the Public Distribution System (PDS), the food security
situation in the country remains extremely fragile. Recent events indicate
a deterioration of security conditions which led to an increase in
humanitarian needs in crisis areas. UN agencies are monitoring the
evolution of the situation and providing assistance as needed. "

(as of 15 October this year)

In the interests of fairness, I should point out that the CAP also talks
about some basic aid. But I won't go through it: the DFID highlights this
in executive summaries, because they realise that, from a PR perspective,
it looks better than the rest of what they do.

3. note that this
seems to be based on data collected in May 2004



Daniel O'Huiginn
07745 192426
24, Priory Road, Cambridge

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