To Iraqi Food Rations Threaten Malnutrition And Starvation
Under conditions of widespread
malnutrition, run-away inflation and mass unemployment, the Iraqi Trade
Ministry is preparing to slash the provision of subsidised food and
basic hygiene necessities under the Public Distribution System (PDS).
insists that cutbacks are unavoidable because it has not been promised
a sufficient budget for 2008. Mohammed Hanoun, chief-of-staff to the
trade minister, told Al Jazeerah last month: “In 2007, we asked
for $3.2 billion for rationing basic foodstuffs. But since the price
of imported food stuff doubled in the past year, we requested $7.2 billion.
That request was denied.”
Abid Falah al-Soodani told the Iraqi parliament: “Since the government’s
financial support will not be available next year, we will reduce the
items from 10 to five and the quantities of the remaining items will
not be the same as this year and in past years.”
to Al Jazeerah, the first changes will take effect this month. Basic
items—baby milk formula, tea, chick-peas, soap and washing detergent—will
no longer be given out. Only flour, sugar, rice, cooking oil and powdered
milk will be available. The monthly amount will fall, according to UN
newsagency IRIN, to just 9 kilograms of flour, 3 kg of rice, 2 kg of
sugar, 1 litre of cooking oil and 250 grams of milk powder, per family
member covered by a ration card.
change will be introduced in June. An income test will be introduced
that will essentially strip anyone with a modestly paid job of the ration
card needed to receive the monthly hand-out. An estimated five million
people will no longer be eligible to use the PDS.
The PDS was
introduced by Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime as a short-term
answer to the UN economic sanctions imposed during the Gulf War of 1990-1991.
The food rationing continued after the first US-led war on Iraq, as
the UN refused to lift the trade embargo on the grounds that Iraq had
to prove it had destroyed its chemical and biological “weapons
of mass destruction”.
By late 1996,
amid outrage over the humanitarian consequences of the sanctions, the
UN established the so-called “oil-for-food” program, in
which Iraq was permitted to sell a limited amount of oil to be used
to purchase food and essential items, as well as to pay reparations
to Kuwait and finance the UN’s own administrative and weapons
food ration helped prevent mass starvation, Iraq was unable to purchase
essential medical supplies, causing a drastic rise in infant mortality
and a sharp fall in overall life expectancy. It is estimated that the
sanctions led to as many as one million Iraqi deaths, including 500,000
children, between 1991 and 1998.
a UN official responsible for enforcing the regime, resigned in protest
in October 1998, declaring: “We are in the process of destroying
an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that. It is illegal
By the time
of the March 2003 invasion, virtually the entire Iraqi population was
to some extent reliant on the ration to meet their basic nutritional
requirements. The US military occupation therefore had little choice
but to continue the program. It has utterly failed, however, to ensure
that the population received it.
a survey by the World Food Program (WFP) found that at least 6.5 million
Iraqis were highly dependent on the food ration and a further 3.9 million
would become “food insecure” without it. The WFP estimated
that at least 27 percent of Iraqi children were already suffering chronic
malnutrition. Many of the poorest Iraqis were not consuming their ration,
but selling part on the market to help get the money necessary for other
essentials such as clothes and rent.
three years on, Oxfam International estimates that just 60 percent of
Iraqis are still able to pick up their ration, compared with 96 percent
in 2004. Security concerns prevent large numbers of people from going
to nearby distribution centres. Sectarian militias fostered by the US
occupation use the allocation of food as part of the systems of patronage
they preside over. The WFP has announced this year that it will try
to provide emergency food relief to more than 750,000 Iraqis who have
been displaced by violence and cannot access the PDS.
can reach distribution centres find that many do not have items in stock
due to delivery delays and shortages caused by the wholesale theft.
The quantity of food available has fallen by 35 percent under US occupation,
according to experts cited by the IRIN UN newsagency. The quality has
also sharply deteriorated, with people expected to consume substandard
products or items past their expiry date.
At the same
time, the social need is glaring. Official unemployment is 17.6 percent,
with an additional 38.1 percent of the workforce classified as under
employed. Annual inflation is estimated at over 20 percent, down from
52.8 percent in 2006 when the Baghdad government abolished fuel subsidies
that once gave Iraqis among the lowest petrol and diesel prices in the
world. Oxfam estimates that at least four million people live in what
it classifies as “absolute poverty”.
to the food ration will only heighten the immense difficulties facing
the population. A health worker told Dahr Jamail of the International
Press Service (IPS) last month: “I and my wife have five boys
and six girls so the ration costs a lot when it has to be bought. I
cannot afford food and also other expenses like study, clothes and doctors.”
most deprived layers of Iraqi society, hundreds of thousands face the
prospect of malnutrition and outright starvation. A Baghdad mother of
two told Al Jazeerah: “If they reduce the quantity of the ration,
we will be displaced [made homeless] as the money to pay bills will
have to be used for food. If we are considered a poor family today,
tomorrow we will be considered absolutely desperate.”
man told the newsagency: “Reducing the number of subsidised items
will turn my sons into malnourished children and put us into a level
of poverty worse than we have any seen.” Mohammed Falah Ibrahim,
a food expert working for the health ministry, warned: “There
should be a complementary plan in place to ensure that financial aid
reaches those poor families who will be affected by this, otherwise
many Iraqis could die of hunger.”
of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is under pressure to provide sufficient
funds in the upcoming budget to maintain the program.
Shiite cleric Ali al-Sistani, who is sensitive to dangers of social
discontent among the Shiite urban poor, has called for the changes to
the ration system to be reversed. His spokesman Abdulmahdi al Karbalaai
told Azzaman on December 6: “Do they [the government] know that
60 percent of Iraqi people depend on food rations? What will happen
to these people if the government goes ahead with its plans? Suffering
will aggravate and famine will be on its way in Iraq.”
government claims it cannot find additional money to feed the population,
but its 2007 budget allocated $7.3 billion to building up the military
and police apparatus which is assisting the American military repress
opposition to the occupation—an increase of some 150 percent.
administration, which is responsible for creating the social catastrophe
and spends some $15 billion a month on maintaining military occupation
forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, provides scant humanitarian assistance.
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