10 October 1997

Press Release


ROME, 10 October (FAO/WFP) -- Although there has been some improvement in the overall food supply situation following the implementation of Security Council resolution 986 (1995), malnutrition still remains a serious problem throughout Iraq, according to the latest joint assessment mission by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

While the full implementation of resolution 986 will increase food supplies and, therefore, should lead to an improvement in the nutritional status of the Iraqi population, the mission found "considerable evidence of widespread malnutrition and the overall poor food and nutrition situation in the country" as a result of "the supply shortages which have been experienced over the last seven years". The mission concludes that the food ration provided under the "oil-for-food" agreement should be balanced with the inclusion of fruits, vegetables and animal products.

The FAO/WFP mission warned: "There is now concern that emergency assistance to vulnerable groups might be curtailed due to widespread perception amongst donor countries that malnutrition problems have been solved following the implementation of resolution 986". On the contrary, the mission observes that "the need for vulnerable group feeding remains essential, as the resolution 986-basket does not meet the special nutritional food needs of vulnerable groups, such as malnourished children."

The "oil-for-food" agreement sanctioned by Security Council resolution 986 permits Iraq to export limited quantities of oil to finance imports of food and other humanitarian needs. Under the agreement, in the first six- month period starting 10 December 1996, Iraq was allowed to sell up to $2 billion of oil, out of which $805 million could be used for food imports and $44 million for urgently needed agricultural inputs. On 8 June, the Security Council extended the "oil-for-food" deal for a second six-month period.

The mission notes that between 1991 and 1997 "nutritional catastrophe was only avoided in central/south Iraq by the widespread availability of the government food rations, and in the north by food aid provided by WFP and many non-governmental organizations". It continues: "Malnutrition is a serious problem throughout the whole country. Severe malnutrition is widespread in paediatric hospitals, reflecting its presence in the general population."

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It is difficult to assess the full nutritional impact of resolution 986. The first distribution, of wheat flour, only started in April. A complete ration was distributed in August, the first since the beginning of the operation.

Crop yields remain low due to poor land preparation resulting from a lack of machinery, low use of inputs, deteriorating soil quality and irrigation facilities, and increased crop infestation. The mission estimated production of the main cereals in 1997 at 2.2 million tons, the lowest since 1991.

The mission also termed the amount allocated for imports of badly needed agricultural inputs as "grossly inadequate in comparison to rehabilitation and investment needs in the sector". Its reports states: "It is strongly recommended that, in addition to an overall improvement of the food supply situation, the international community continues supporting feeding programmes for selected vulnerable groups who are not adequately covered by the resolution 986 food distribution. These groups include malnourished children under five, hospital in-patients, orphanages and social institutions, internally displaced persons and refugees."

The report notes that with the beginning of food supplies under the "oil-for-food" deal, WFP, which in 1995 was feeding some 2.15 million people, amended its programme to focus on the special food needs of the most vulnerable groups, especially those who have been weakened by chronic malnutrition and the decline in real incomes in the country.

The Programme had planned to reduce its caseload from 66,000 beneficiaries to 91,000 people in the north of the country, but persistent widespread malnutrition among vulnerable groups had caused that to be increased to 275,000, as well as a further 597,000 people in the centre and south. Since 1991, WFP has provided a total of 489,447 tons of food aid in 10 emergency operations.

Other recommendations include giving high priority to rehabilitation of water and sanitation systems, improving rations for mothers during pregnancy and lactation, and promotion of breast feeding. In the agricultural sector, special attention should be given to measures that would encourage farmers to increase production of animal products, fruits and vegetables, and to ensure favourable returns on crops.

The joint mission visited Iraq between 9 June and 8 July, basing its evaluation on discussions with Government Ministries and Departments, United Nations system organizations, bilateral agencies and non-governmental organizations and on field visits throughout the country. The report has been issued after a thorough verification of data collected by the mission.

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