Joint FAO/WFP mission to Iraq finds that malnutrition is still widespread

A joint FAO/WFP assessment mission to Iraq in June/July has found that malnutrition is still a major problem throughout the country, despite the oil-for-food deal set up under UN Security Council Resolution (SCR) 986. Under the deal, which came into effect on 10 December 1996, Iraq is allowed to export limited quantities of oil to finance imports of food and other essential humanitarian needs. In the first six-month period, Iraq was permitted to sell up to US$2 billion of oil, out of which $805 million could be used for food imports and $44 million for urgently needed agricultural inputs. The Security Council approved a six-month extension on 8 June 1997 to cover the period until 8 December 1997. The Distribution Plan for phase II was approved by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 4 August.

Weeds invade wheat fields in Iraq

In a Special Report issued on 3 October, the mission states that "although food rations under SCR 986 will provide a significant proportion of overall energy and protein needs, the provisions are low or deficient in a number of other nutrients, particularly Vitamins A and C, which are almost zero, and calcium, zinc, riboflavin and Vitamin B6, which are all less than 40 percent of needs." Cases of the nutritional diseases kwashiorkor and marasmus were widely observed by the assessment team.

Fruits, vegetables and animal products are all necessary to boost the nutritional quality of the SCR 986 rations, which are based heavily on cereals, according to the report. It also recommends fortification of the food commodities being imported, particularly wheat flour.

Before the Persian Gulf War in 1990, Iraq imported two-thirds of its food requirements. UN sanctions, imposed in August 1990, however, significantly constrained Iraq's ability to earn foreign currency needed to import sufficient quantities of food to meet needs. As a result, food shortages and malnutrition became progressively severe and chronic in the 1990s. Widespread starvation has only been avoided by a public rationing system that provided minimum quantities of food to the population.

Investment in agriculture is essential

Iraq's agricultural sector has deteriorated significantly in the1990s, because of lack of investment and shortage of essential inputs, according to the report. Perhaps the most far-reaching recommendation for both agriculture and nutrition concerns the need for economic rehabilitation and development throughout the whole country. Unless increased purchasing power is generated and greater investment is made in agriculture, additional and necessary high-quality proteins and bio-available micronutrients will be beyond the means of many, and nutritional problems will persist, despite the improved ration under SCR 986.

The estimated 2.76 million hectares planted to cereals in 1997 is the lowest since 1991. Large unplanted areas were observed in central and southern areas, where some 300 000 hectares of previously reclaimed land have been abandoned because of rising soil salinity and lack of irrigation water, farm machinery and inputs. The livestock industry has been severely hit by shortages of feed and vaccines.

The country's water and sanitation system has also deteriorated to a point where water-borne diseases, including nutritional marasmus, remain a major problem in spite of increased food availability. In addition to this, food safety has become a major problem: "many unsafe additives are in the food supply and the whole food industry has seriously deteriorated over the last seven years".


16 October 1997

GIEWS Special Report

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