Household Food Security in Iraq:

Some Food for Thought

As the psychological warfare against Iraq continues to be waged, the nightmare scenario that emerges is the (involuntary or voluntary) interruption of the food-basket that is distributed to all Iraqi families on a monthly basis.

Routine distribution of food on this scale is in itself a massive logistic operation that appears to work flawlessly. Some 24 million people (20.5 million in the south/centre and 3.5 million in northern Iraq), or roughly 3.7 million families currently receive and average of 2,230 kcal per person per day (kcal/p/d).

In Northern Iraq this food is distributed by the WFP. In the south/centre effective food distribution on this scale is made possible lay a large network of private agents possibly linked to the Baath Party 20,000 Public Councils (Majlis AI-Shaab) that additionally organize everything that pertains, to families' basic needs including electricity, water and sanitation. At the same time this network caters for security and has a tight control over the population

Monthly Food Ration/Person

Items

kg

Wheat

9

Rice

3

Sugar

2

Tea

0.2

Cooking Oil

1.5

Milk Powder

3.6

Dried Whole Milk and/or Cheese

1

Fortified Weaning Cereal

0.8

Pulses

1.5

Iodized Salt

0.1

This ration costs US$24.5 and a nominal fee of ID250 (US$12 cents) is paid to the government (S/C). The ration is intended to provide 2,472 kcal/person/day and a 60.2g proteins/person/day.

This large scale food distribution entails some 60,000 metric tons/month in the north (WFP) and some 350,000 metric tons/month in the south/centre (GOI). In financial terms it represents over US $290 million/month. To put the scale of this operation into perspective, it must be noted that WFP under its regular programme distributed between 1991 and 1998 a total-of 500,000 metric tons of food (US$225 million). This is equivalent to 5,200 metric tons/month at a cost of US$2.34 million/month, less than 1 per cent of what is currently undertaken under the OFFP.

Food support in Iraq started on a modest scale in the mid-1980s when civil servants (some 1 million in those days) received specified quantities of food at subsidized prices. In September 1990 the GOI introduced the food ration, it contained at that time in the order of 1,300 kcal/p/d (US$18.7).

Currently the average ration amounts to 2,230 kcal/p/d (US$24.5). However, the householdsí dependency on food rations has evolved over the past decade to almost total dependency. Since the mid-1980s the Iraqi Dinar (ID) has devaluated from ID1/US$3 to ID2OO0/US$1, more than 6000 per cent. School teacherís salaries have halved, since the early 1990s and in US$ terms, to some US$5/month. Dependency of a school teacher on the food ration has increased from 65 per cent (1990) to over 83 per cent of her/his income today.

Clearly, the capability of households to cope with food shortages has reduced. Additionally, according to the WFPís food price monitoring mechanism, food market prices are extremely sensitive to any changes in the political arena. After 11th September, the prices of the food-basket items increased drastically and the WFP had to intervene.

With this in mind one must ask:

  1. What is the likelihood of the food distribution system in S/C Iraq being interrupted in the near future?
  2. What would happen in terms of security if food distribution were interrupted?
  3. Does the WFP have the capacity to rapidly distribute 350,000 metric tons/month in S/C Iraq if required?

We believe that interruption of food distribution is possible. Pregnant and lactating women as well as young children are the most likely victims. Chaos would be the immediate effect. Very rapid intervention by the WFP (in the midst of chaos) would be required to avoid further deterioration of malnutrition and even famine on a large scale.

What has/can Unicef do?

  1. We have expressed our concern to the inter-agency contingency planning meeting in Cairo (18 February, 2002);
  2. We are liaising with WFP to obtain weekly data on food prices to hopefully alert the Regional Office/HQ (the press?) if/when we foresee food shortages.