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Assessment of the Food and Nutrition Situation Iraq

Category Food and Nutrition

An FAO/WFP/WHO Mission visited Iraq from 1 - 27 May 2000. The objective of the mission was to assess the current food supply and nutrition situation in the country, particularly after two consecutive years of drought, and to compare the results with the findings of the previous assessment missions of 1993, 1995 and 1997. 

Two consecutive years of severe drought and inadequate availability of essential agricultural inputs have severely affected the Iraqi agriculture. Reflecting a substantial reduction in plantings and yields, cereal production in 2000 fell to 794,000 tons, some 47 percent below the 1999 poor harvest and 64 percent lower than the previous five years average. Drought conditions also drastically reduced the water resources in rivers, dams, lakes and canals, some of which have virtually dried up. As a result, prospects are unfavorable for the upcoming irrigated summer crops, vegetables and fruits. 

Cereal imports since 1997/98 under the oil-for-food deal have led to significant improvements in the food supply situation. In 1995/96 per person cereal consumption was down 63 percent from the 1984/85-1988/89 average. This year (2000/01) it is projected to be 90 percent of that level. However this is 4 percent less than 1997/98. Furthermore, problems of delays in the flow of food imports continue to be reported since the 1997 Mission, leading to repeated cases of low levels of MOU commodity stocks.
The UN has implemented a series of important measures since the end of 1999 to remedy this situation. Contract approval procedures have already significantly improved following the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1284 (1999) which includes provisions for accelerated approvals of contracts for foodstuffs, as well as of basic or standard health, agricultural and educational supplies. These contracts no longer require to be submitted to the Security Council Sanctions Committee for approval, but rather are notified to the Secretary-General. Efforts have also been made, and should continue to be made, by the UN to make contract-processing procedures more efficient. Unless there is timely submission of applications by the Government of Iraq, efficient contract processing by the UN and opportune delivery of food imports under MOU contracts, shortfalls are likely to result in an increase in the frequency of not being able to meet food basket targets. Similarly, unless agricultural inputs, such as appropriate seeds, are delivered in time for the next season, a production recovery will not be achieved. 

The effective nation-wide rationing system set up by the Government of Iraq in 1991 prevented famine but with the decline in the energy content of the GOI ration and the reduction in food available outside the rationing system, malnutrition and mortality of young children dramatically increased. The high levels of malnutrition documented by the 1995 mission were an important catalyst for the reaching of an agreement on the implementation of the Oil-for-Food Programme established through Security Council Resolution - SCR 986 in April 1995. Under the SCR 986 programme the distribution of humanitarian supplies to all the Iraqi population is undertaken by the Government of Iraq (GOI) in the centre/south and by the UN Inter-Agency Humanitarian Programme on behalf of the GOI, in the three northern Governorates. The subsequent increased humanitarian supplies provided under SCR 986 since 1997 and the high level of UN and NGO activity in the north arrested further nutrition decline. 

Despite significant increases in the food ration since SCR 986, child malnutrition rates in the centre/south of the country do not appear to have improved significantly and nutritional problems remain serious and widespread. Wasting in under five-year-olds is unacceptably high at around 10%. The indication of high levels of malnutrition supports UN findings that infant and child mortality have more than doubled since the end of the 1980s. Classical recognisable signs of severe malnutrition such as marasmus and kwashiorkor continue to be observed in hospital paediatric wards. The nutritional status of school children aged 5-8 years based primarily on stunting and those aged 9-15 years based on low BMI is a cause for concern especially for those from rural areas and poor households. Micronutrient deficiencies are common and iron deficiency anaemia is high. In addition, the high rate of obesity in adults is a cause for concern with heart disease, hypertension and diabetes the major reported causes of death in adults. 

The existing food rations do not provide a nutritionally adequate and varied diet. Although since their effective implementation in 1997 they have halted further deterioration in the nutritional situation, they have not by themselves been able to reverse this trend. In spite of the fact that the ration is reasonably adequate in energy and total protein, it is lacking in vegetables, fruit, and animal products and is therefore deficient in micronutrients. With only one quarter of the planned ration of pulses distributed due to gaps in the submission of applications for procurement, the protein quality of the diet has also been poor.