Iraq in danger of starvation, says UN

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Posted by Andreas from ( on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 at 12:05PM :

Iraq in danger of starvation, says UN

Helena Smith, Nicosia and Ed Vulliamy in Baghdad

Sunday May 11, 2003
The Observer (London)

Iraqi agriculture is on the brink of collapse, with
fears that many of its 24.5 million people will go
hungry this summer, according to a confidential report
being studied by the UN's Food and Agriculture
A special assessment prepared by the UN agency's staff
in Rome, which has been seen by The Observer, reveals
a catastrophe in the making, with crops and poultry
being especially hard hit.

Government warehouses that would have served as the
main suppliers of seeds, fertilisers and pesticide
sprays have been looted, particularly in the centre
and south of the country.

Iraqi farmers should now be planting tomatoes and
onions, potatoes, cucumbers, water melon, peppers,
beans and squash. But without seeds, fertilisers and
pesticides, that will be hard - a situation
exacerbated by the collapse of the pumping stations
that powered the irrigation schemes on which the
vegetable crop depends.

'Vegetables and poultry are particularly important
because they are the main source of protein, vitamins,
minerals and a host of micro-nutrients that are
missing from the oil-for-food basket which is also why
malnutrition is endemic in Iraq,' said spokesman Barry

Sixty per cent of the population has depended on the
oil-for-food programme, instituted at the end of the
1991Gulf war. Under the programme, Iraq received
supplies of wheat, pulses and flour in exchange for

The FAO calls the report a 'preliminary desk
assessment' and is expected to release a statement
commenting on its main points by Wednesday.

In the southern and central areas, vital irrigation
networks have been destroyed, a once-thriving poultry
industry has been ruined and there are predictions of
disease and pestilence among both plants and animals.

Enormous difficulties are anticipated in harvesting
winter crops, 1.2 million tons of wheat, barley, rice
and maize. Under Saddam, harvesting normally started
this month, with a touring fleet of ageing combined

Lack of spare parts had long put a strain on the
harvesters available and now no mechanism exists for
purchasing the yield. In previous years, the Ministry
of Trade bought the crop, stored it and arranged for
banks to pay farmers, who in turn used the revenues to
buy the seeds for their summer vegetable crops.

But this year no seeds have been planted because, even
if the farmers had money to buy them, most of the seed
stock has been looted or destroyed.

Iraqi's poultry industry, source of the half of the
animal protein eaten by the population, is also in
dire straits. All the soybean and protein concentrate
feed stored in government warehouses was stolen, along
with vaccines, drugs and medicines required to keep
the stock healthy.

Both the major poultry projects that once supplied
Iraqi chicken farmers with layers and hatching eggs
have collapsed. Thousands of birds have starved to

Animal health is another major concern. Most of the
veterinary hospitals and clinics were looted or
destroyed, and vehicles, drugs, medicines and food
ingredients disappeared.

The impact could be severe in a country where disease
is rife among the 18 million sheep and goats and three
million cattle. Some are capable of transmission to
humans, so constant control is required.

The warning came as America's efforts to get Iraq's
Health Ministry up and running twisted into farce
yesterday, when it emerged that the new Minister
concerned was a Saddam crony.

Dr Ali Shnan Janabi, former number three in Saddam's
infamously corrupt Ministry, was presented to an
all-day conference of doctors. His appointment was
greeted with disbelief and charges of corruption from
many doctors.

Dr Hussein Harith, a senior registrar at the
al-Mansour teaching hospital, said Dr Shnan was one of
a 'group of senior Ministers who asked the directors
of hospitals to report that they did not need drugs
and medicines [supplied to Iraq under the oil-for-food
programme], even though they were desperate for them.

There were happier scenes in Basra, where the
63-year-old leader of Iraq's biggest Shia group
returned from exile yesterday. Supporters waved flags
and chanted slogans when the convoy of Ayatollah
Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim crossed into Iraq from Iran,
where he has led the Supreme Council of the Islamic
Revolution in Iraq since 1980.

Thousands lined the 12-mile road from the border to
Basra, where up to 100,000 people packed a stadium to
listen to him address them for the first time in 23

-- Andreas
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