One in five Iraqis suffers chronic poverty

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Posted by Sadie from ? ( on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 at 12:38PM :

One in five Iraqis suffers from chronic poverty
Report, World Food Programme

19 June 2003

BAGHDAD - One in five Iraqis or 4.6 million people suffer from chronic poverty according to a survey* conducted by the UN World Food Programme in Southern and Central Iraq.

Frowned upon by the deposed Iraqi regime, the survey, most likely the last of very few to have been carried out under the rule of Saddam Hussein, was conducted discreetly in late February and early March in the 15 Iraqi Southern and Central provinces where an estimated 22.3 million live.

"The survey indicates a high level of chronic poverty and an alarming dependency on the monthly food rations that were established in Iraq in the early 1990s. About 13 years of stringent economic sanctions, three wars in two decades and failing economic policies have impoverished a majority of the Iraqi people and reduced them to relying heavily on free food handouts," said WFP representative in Iraq Torben Due.

WFP had estimated before the war that 60% of the Iraqi population were entirely dependent on the monthly food rations. This survey shows that even with free food a large number of Iraqis in the South and Center of the country remained chronically poor.

"This is a major cause for concern because all those people were found to be chronically poor even while their basic food needs were met every month free of charge. Two months of instability and war have most likely made their ability to cope with an already deteriorating economic situation much worse."

Supported by WFP, the Iraqi Ministry of Trade re-started this vital social safety net this month. As many as 27 million Iraqis will be able to collect their monthly rations in June at a nominal fee of Iraqi Dinar 250, about 20 US cents (the market value is estimated at ID 10,000, about US$ 7.7).

Due to the former government's restrictions on collecting data, WFP had to resort to using its own national staff to collect data on a limited sample. About 40 Iraqis who have been working for WFP for at least five years in the surveyed provinces participated in the exercise.

Most of the respondents worked in WFP's Observers Unit, which conducted nearly 9,000 interviews a month of households benefiting from the Public Distribution System (PDS) before the war as part of the regular monitoring of the Oil for Food programme.

"The results should help us in the emerging policy debate on how to reduce poverty and ensure the basic needs of the Iraqi people. If one in five Iraqis in the south and center was unable to secure basic needs before the recent war, it is most likely that this number could increase now with the economic uncertainty in the private and public sectors," warned WFP representative to Iraq Torben Due.

The study measured chronic poverty defined as a condition whereby a household or an individual becomes frequently unable to meet basic needs including adequate food, water, clothing, shelter, health and basic education.

WFP is now focused on helping the authorities in Iraq maintain a nation-wide food distribution system on which 60% of the Iraqi population (or about 16 million people) is totally dependant. "As planners and policy makers look ahead for long term solutions to food security problems in Iraq, they should be based on a thorough analysis that takes into consideration the current high level of dependency on food rations. A solid knowledge base covering poverty, malnutrition, food security, social welfare and other related issues will be needed to have an informed dialogue on the best policies to follow," Due said.

"Vulnerability to poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition have most likely risen over the past two months," Due said. However, he cautioned, more elaborate and precise surveys need to be conducted to have a more accurate picture of the social and economic changes in Iraq.

* "The Extent and Geographic Distribution of Chronic Poverty in Iraq's Center/South Region" (PDF) was authored by Tarek El-Guindy, Hazem Al Mahdy and John McHarris.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency. In 2002 WFP fed 72 million people in 82 countries including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people.

WFP Global School Feeding Campaign -- As the largest provider of nutritious meals to poor school children, WFP has launched a global campaign aimed at ensuring the world's 300 million undernourished children are educated.

For more information:

Trevor Rowe, WFP Chief Spokesperson, Tel. +39-06-65132602; Khaled Mansour, Public Affairs Officer, WFP Baghdad, Tel. +1-212-9633010 Ext 6343; Christiane Berthiaume, Public Affairs Officer, WFP Geneva, Tel. +41-22-9178564; Jordan Dey, Public Affairs Officer, WFP New York, Tel. +1-646-8241112

-- Sadie
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