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Food Insecurity in Iraq Persists: Children Suffer

AMMAN/BAGHDAD, 11 May 2006 – Despite the laudable efforts of the Public Distribution System (PDS) of food baskets, many of Iraq’s poorer households are still food insecure, according to a Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis launched today, based on the most recent data from 2005.

The study was successfully conducted by the Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation and Central Organization for Statistics & Information Technology (COSIT) and the Ministry of Health/Nutrition Research Institute (NRI), supported by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and UNICEF. It was sorely needed, both to answer questions arising from apparently conflicting reports on nutritional status and to support policy development and prioritization to deal with identified problem areas.

The survey was very comprehensive, covering 98 districts and 22,050 rural and urban households, and employed seven leading indicators: stunting, underweight, wasting, per cent of population who were extremely poor (spending less than US$15 per month), PDS ration dependency rate, Coping Strategy Index, and income.

Roger Wright, UNICEF’s Special Representative for Iraq, lamented that children were confirmed as the major victims of food insecurity.  “The chronic malnutrition rate of children in food insecure households was as high as 33 per cent, or one out of every three children malnourished,” he stated.  Chronic malnutrition affects the youngest and most vulnerable children, aged 12 months to 23 months, most severely.  “This can irreversibly hamper the young child’s optimal mental and cognitive development, not just their physical development,” he said.  Acute malnutrition was also of concern, with nine per cent of Iraqi children being acutely malnourished.  The highest rates (12-13 per cent) were again found in children aged under 24 months.

Continuing food insecurity in Iraq cannot be attributed to any one factor, but stems from several causes, including the lingering effects of war and sanctions, plus the ongoing conflict and insecurity.  Their protracted and complicated interactions have resulted in increased unemployment, illiteracy, weakened infrastructure – power and water and sanitation in particular – and the direct loss of wage-earners for many families.  Iraq’s food insecurity is thus not simply due to lack of production of sufficient food nationally for the population, but more a failure to ensure access to sufficient food at the household level, the study suggests.

The PDS ration has represented by far the single most important food source in the diet and is still a major factor in stabilizing food security in Iraq, where 15 per cent of households are classified as Extremely Poor.  Coping mechanisms that have had to be used by such households include consuming cheaper and poorer quality foodstuffs, reducing the number of daily meals and/or buying food on credit.

Educational levels have an impact on accessibility to food, with the more educated generally having greater ability to cope with difficult situations and a higher probability of employment.  The study raises concerns about a growing drop-out rate among students under 15 years of age – 25 per cent of students under 15 who lived mostly in rural areas and were identified as extremely poor had dropped out of school, the main reasons for this being that households could no longer afford the expenses of schooling, that the schools were located too far away from home and that some children had to be sent to work to supplement household incomes.

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About UNICEF:
For 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 155 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For further information please contact:

David Singh, Communication Officer - Media and External Relations
UNICEF Iraq Support Centre in Amman
Tel: +962 (0) 6 551 5921 / Mob: +962 (0) 79 640 0536 
dsingh@unicef.org


 

 

 

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