As a result of the American-led invasion of Iraq over the last decade, and the removal of international trade sanctions against the country, food security is improving in one of the Middle East’s most unstable and war-torn countries.
Historically, Iraq has faced impediments to food security in the form of international trade sanctions and wars, which hindered export of the country’s most valuable resource – oil. In 1996, an estimated 15 percent of the population was food insecure, up from just four percent in 1980. By the late 1990’s, that number had reached 30 percent, according to some sources.
The loss of food security in Iraq began in 1990, when the United Nations set financial and trade sanctionsagainst the country following its invasion of Kuwait. The import of food aid was tightly restricted during this time. According to a World Food Program (WFP) report, the most important food source for poor Iraqis in the 1990s was the government’s food subsidy program, known as the Public Distribution System (PDS). However, without the means to develop agricultural infrastructure or receive much international food aid, many Iraqis continued to suffer food insecurity until the turn of the century.
Iraq’s food situation began to improve just before the year 2000, and continued to improve after Saddam Hussein was removed from power in 2003. In 2003, food insecurity in Iraq was measured at 11 percent – a huge decline from the high numbers of the late 1990s. It rose again in 2005, but since then has continued to decline.
According to a joint analysis by the UN and the Iraqi government, food insecurity had fallen to seven percent of the population in 2007. In 2011, just five percent of the population was found to be food insecure. The Iraqi government cited improvements in national security and economic growth, as well as increased humanitarian aid, as reasons for the improvements in food security.
While these numbers are cause for encouragement, they do not tell the whole story of food security in Iraq. The Public Distribution System still accounts for over 30 percent of the average Iraqi’s daily calories, and over 50 percent for Iraq’s poorest people. PDS distributes free rice and wheat rations to any Iraqi citizen, and is the largest program of its kind in the world. Still, food is the largest expense for most Iraqi families, comprising 35 percent of household expenditures.
Nutrition is an important factor in food security that is often overlooked. Sufficient calories prevent starvation, but prolonged malnutrition weakens the body’s immune system, making it more susceptible to disease. Malnutrition also hinders growth, and childhood stunting is a major indicator of undernourishment.
Rates of malnutrition have been more difficult to measure in Iraq, and the statistics are not as indicative of progress. While rates were highest during the food insecure period of the 1990s, they remain relatively high – about 25 percent of Iraqi children have had their growth stunted due to chronic or acute malnutrition. And over the last decade, from 2000 to 2011, rates of childhood malnutrition have actually increased slightly. In all likelihood, it will take years before food access is sufficient to meet both caloric and nutritional needs for the entire Iraqi population.
Source: IRIN News
Photo: Daily Mail