ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Nestled in the heart of the Middle East, Iraq is a country with a rich history and cultural heritage. However, Iraq’s challenges are as complex as its history. Although it has navigated through the aftermath of wars and insurgencies, these events still loom inside the economic and social fabric of the country. Poverty and hunger are some of the most prevalent in the tapestry of domestic issues in the country. According to the World Food Program (WFP), 2.4 million of 41 million Iraqis suffer from acute hunger, and 31% live below the poverty line. USAID alarms that one million Iraqis are food insecure. Here is everything you need to know about hunger in Iraq.
Post-ISIS and Current Conditions
The post-invasion history of Iraq is tarnished with notoriety as the country became rife with insurgent groups. The insurgency and domestic precariousness were at their precipice during the time of ISIS (2014-2017). Consequently, this period cemented itself to be the most food-insecure period in Iraq’s history, as ISIS and ISIL’s military campaigns disrupted agricultural activities, destroyed infrastructure and thwarted humanitarian efforts. Moreover, the intermittent conflict and sanctions dampened the status quo of international trade by impeding the export of oil and the import of food, ultimately propagating hunger in the war-torn regions.
After the desolation of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, many Iraqis face the imminent threat of displacement and un-provided-for needs. According to the U.N., 4.1 million Iraqis need assistance from humanity, and 1.2 million have been displaced. The Government of Iraq dispenses imported cereal to low-income households through the Public Distribution System, a social safety net program. Although many agricultural markets particularly in the Kurdistan region have resumed operations, they face a myriad of long-lasting drawbacks such as detrimental agro-climatic conditions, uneven domestic cereal production, disruptions in the Public Distribution System, unfavorable agricultural investment policies and minimal purchasing power.
Other major issues include the expeditiously increasing population, unanticipatedly changing weather patterns and natural disasters. Iraq’s 23-million-person population in 2000 has doubled in a span of two decades. A larger population accounts for an equally larger food supply to suffice everyone. Unfortunately, Iraq needed a 66% increase in food supply (local and imported) by 2023. Compared to that figure, Iraq’s 44% increase in the same period seems tepid and calls for a lot of catching up.
Additional strains on Iraq’s agricultural body include adverse weather conditions and droughts. Depleted water supplies from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, coupled with economic collapses following events like U.N. sanctions, the U.S. invasion in 2003 and the frenzy of the Islamic State, have compromised food systems; further intensifying hunger in Iraq.
The plummeting oil prices have plagued the state budget, draining it by $40 billion. The Pandemic has not been forgiving either. Culminating in a death toll of 25,000 people, the COVID-19 Pandemic exacerbated the already-present challenges of food security and hunger in Iraq. Upsetting the already fragile food system, the Pandemic disrupted food supply chains, increased food costs and diminished household purchasing power as more Iraqis slid into the webs of poverty and starvation.
The Good News
Despite all the ups and downs and peaks and pits, Iraq’s hunger predicament looks comparatively more optimistic than the countries in proximity, like Yemen and Syria. According to the Global Health Index, Iraq ranks 66 out of 121 countries, with a GHI score of 13.7 (moderate). However, it has not deterred the humanitarian efforts of both government and NGOs to quench the pressing hunger and food security concerns of the nation. Here are some notable few:
- FFP has issued $240 million to food-insecure Iraqis, including food vouchers, cash transfers for food and local procurement of food baskets.
- FFP and the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance are funding an international non-governmental organization to help support 680,000 vulnerable people in Iraq’s Anbar, Ninewa and Salah al-Din governorates with cash-based transfers to cover food and supplementary needs.
- The WFP is improving the food security of vulnerable Iraqis by rejuvenating and creating canals and irrigation systems, and by introducing climate-change-and-water-crisis mitigation measures south of Iraq.
- UNHCR has established settlements and refugee camps in Iraq to shelter needy people and provide them with basic provisions.
- Action Against Hunger has helped train farmers to cope with the prevailing climate crisis by building irrigation and resource management systems.
- Oxfam International has provided the displaced food-insecure and water-insecure with food rations and water as they fled from war-shrouded areas. It has renewed water and sanitation facilities.
Despite the roller coaster ride of wars, famines, insurgencies and a slew of other ordeals, the forward trajectory of the country teems with hope and optimism. With the issue of conflict and security resolved, the upcoming generation is capable enough to shatter the shackles of poverty and dawn a better tomorrow.
– Zawer Ali