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Food security in Iraq has improved in the last decade – Less dependent on rations

Posted by African Press International on May 13, 2013

BAGHDAD/DUBAI,  – Food security in Iraq has improved in the last decade, as the American-led invasion brought an end to sanctions and a resumption of open relations between Iraq and t he rest of the world. 

Historically, Iraq’s vulnerability to food insecurity has been largely due to barriers to international trade – caused by two decades of wars and sanctions – which hindered the export of oil and import of food commodities. These barriers also affected Iraq’s ability to modernize the agricultural sector and employ new technologies; local production could not meet the country’s growing food needs.As such, even during the worst years of sectarian violence in the last decade, access to food improved on average, compared to the years under sanctions.

Recent history

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in 1980, just four percent of Iraqis were undernourished or “food deprived”, meaning they consumed less than the minimum energy requirement, which in Iraq is currently estimated at 1,726 kilocalories per person per day. Despite years of war with Iran in the 1980s, agricultural subsidies and food imports from the US and Europe helped keep the level of food deprivation low.

But when the UN leveled sanctions against Iraq in August 1990, and US government credits for agricultural exports to Iraq ceased, Iraq – almost completely dependent on imports for its food needs – saw food deprivation rise to 15 percent by 1996, according to FAO. Throughout the 1990s, food deprivation continued to climb, reaching a peak of close to one-third of the population in the late 90s, by some counts.

Humanitarian food supplies delivered through the UN’s Oil-for-Food Programme, initiated in 1995, helped ease the strain, but during the early to mid-2000s, the Public Distribution System (PDS) – the government’s subsidy scheme created in 1991 – remained “by far the single most important food source in the diet” for the poor and food insecure population, according to a 2006 report by the government and the World Food Programme (WFP).

Post-2003

Food deprivation levels began to fall just before the turn of the century, and the decline increased with the toppling of former president Saddam Hussein, which saw Iraq regain the ability to import freely. In the last decade, the country has experienced a “huge transformation”, as one observer put it.

In 2003, months after the invasion, a WFP survey found that 11 percent of the population lacked secure access to food, a large drop from the high of the 1990s.

While food insecurity was found to have risen slightly, to 15.4 percent, in a 2005 WFP-government survey, it fell right back down shortly afterwards.

Joint government-UN analysis of 2007 survey data found that 7.1 percent of the population was food deprived; this dropped to 5.7 percent in 2011, according to the Iraq Knowledge Network (IKN) survey.

The government credits an improvement in security, economic growth and increased humanitarian aid.

PDS

Whereas aid workers estimated 60 percent of the population was food aid-reliant during Hussein’s reign, the PDS is now essential only to the poor.

Sa’ad al-Shimary, a government employee from Baghdad, said his family used to be dependent on the PDS. “I don’t even need the food supplies we get from the ration card now,” he said. “I can buy good quality food from the markets, as everything is available now.”

But while the value of the PDS basket has diminished for most Iraqis (it now represents only 8 percent of the total cash value of food expenditures), it remains a major source of wheat and rice for 72 percent and 64 percent of households respectively, according to the 2011 IKN survey. (Iraq’s PDS is the largest in the world, according to the US Agency for International Development, providing virtually free basic food rations to any Iraqi; as such, it is not only utilized by the poor.)

The PDS is the source of more than one-third of Iraqis’ calorie consumption, and more than half of the poor’s consumption.

And at 35 percent, food continues to comprise the highest proportion of Iraqi household expenditures. Nearly one-quarter of IKN respondents said they used coping strategies to eat enough in 2011. In addition to the 5.7 percent of Iraqis now considered to be undernourished, an additional 14 percent would become undernourished if the PDS did not exist, according to the IKN.

Malnutrition

While the percentage of children under five who are underweight nearly halved from 15.9 percent in 2000 to 8.5 percent in 2011, according to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), conducted by the government and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), chronic and acute malnutrition indicators look less positive.

The percentage of children under five who are moderately or severely stunted (too short for their age) or wasted (underweight for their height) both increased – if only slightly – over the same period, a “worrying” trend, aid workers said, given the long-term impacts of malnutrition on mental development.

According to UNICEF, one out of every four Iraqi children suffers from stunted growth. High levels of chronic and acute malnutrition are a sign that mothers and children do not have access to quality food. While access to food has improved, stunting and wasting are difficult trends to reverse in a short period of time. As such, it may take years before improved access to food reflects in malnutrition rates across the board.

Impact of violence

Although the last decade has seen overall gains in food security, the sectarian violence of 2006-2007 did have a negative impact. For example, a WFP report based on 2007 data found that levels of food deprivation differed by area: in Diyala Governorate, one of the most volatile during the conflict, 51 percent of the population was deprived of food, while in the northern autonomous Kurdistan region, largely spared the consequences of the invasion, just one percent of the population suffered from food deprivation.

Here, too, there has been change. While in 2007, insecurity had a huge bearing on food security, the food insecure today are traditionally vulnerable groups – the illiterate, the unemployed, the displaced and female-headed households.

Iraq also faces new challenges to its food security, according to Edward Kallon, WFP’s director in Iraq, including rising global food prices, poverty, climate change, desertification and drought.

For more, check out this UN fact-sheet on food security and this presentation by UNICEF comparing the child indicators in Iraq over the last three to five decades. The bulk of statistics come from WFP/government surveys in 2003, 2005 and 2007; and UNICEF/government surveys in 2000, 2006 and 2011. This 2010 report on food deprivation analyzes 2007 data collected in a survey by the government and the World Bank, just as this 2012 report analyzes food security data from the 2011 IKN survey. The FAO has its own figures on food deprivation. The government has also tracked statistics on underweight children fr om 1991 through 2009.

 

af/da/ha/rz  source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Blistering black-outs in Iraq

Posted by African Press International on April 24, 2013

BAGHDAD/DUBAI,  – The electricity supply system in Iraq has suffered from decades of neglect and lack of new investment, according to the UN.

It has also suffered from previous wars: the Gulf War, for example, rendered all but two of Iraq’s 20 power-generating plants unoperational, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1991. Six months after the end of the war, Iraq had regained about two-thirds of its pre-war output, the report said, but a decade of sanctions made it difficult to replace spare parts and import supplies for repairs.By 2003, the government had managed to provide acceptable levels of electricity supply to Baghdad, but other governorates received less than the capital.

Electricity production took a major hit after the American invasion. Within a month of the incursion, daily energy production had dropped from 4,075 megawatts to 711 due to post-war looting and sabotage, according to the US Special Inspector for Iraq Reconstruction. By the time the Americans handed over power to an Iraqi interim government in June 2004, production had climbed back up to 3,621 megawatts per day.

Long-term investments made into electricity-generation capacity in recent years have not fully borne fruit, observers say, and have not been matched by similar investments into networks for electricity transmission and distribution. “It’s like pouring water into a leaking bucket,” said Sudipto Mukerjee, deputy head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Iraq.

According to the UN’s Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit (IAU) in Iraq, the electricity supply system is “particularly unreliable and serves its users only a few hours each day.”

Iraqi households receive an average of eight hours of electricity from the public network, according to the 2011 Iraq Knowledge Network (IKN) survey, though the government promises to provide electricity 24 hours a day by the end of this year. In the 2011 IKN survey, seventy percent of respondents reported daily electricity cut-offs of more than 12 hours a day. An additional 26 percent had cut-offs of at least three hours a day. Summer temperatures in Iraq can surpass 50 degrees Celsius.

Conflicting views

Former president Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, is said to have discriminated against the Shia heartland in the south by providing them less consistent electricity access. Observers say electricity continues to be politicized by the government, more consistently provided to some groups for political reasons. However, aid workers say this is not reflected in the statistics.

IRIN interviews with two residents of Baghdad show part of this picture:

Sa’ad al-Shimary, a Shiite government employee, said: “Electricity is not a problem. The government supports us with 10 hours, and the rest we get from the private generator for only US$100 a month, so in my home I have 24 hours of electricity, as do most Iraqi families.”

But Mustafa Ahmed, a Sunni, disagreed: “Before 2003, electricity was bad, and now it’s worse. We used to get between 12 to 15 hours of electricity. Now, if we’re lucky we get eight hours a day.”

For more, see this UN fact-sheet on the electrical power sector and the IKN survey. In the latest issue of Middle East Report, Nida Alahmad of the European University Institute in Florence looks at American attempts to rebuild Iraq’s electricity supply immediately after the invasion.

af/da/ha/rz

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The humanitarian legacy – Iraq

Posted by African Press International on April 23, 2013

BAGHDAD/DUBAI,  – Ten years after US forces took over Iraq, opinions on the progress made are as polarized as ever.

On one side, the Iraqi and American governments argue, the gains have been significant.

“Despite all the problems of the past decade, the overwhelming majority of Iraqis agree that we are better off today than under Saddam’s brutal dictatorship,” Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki wrote in a 9 April opinion piece in the Washington Post, marking 10 years after the fall of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

Paul Wolfowitz, who served as the US Deputy Secretary of Defence between 2001 and 2005, wrote the same day in Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that given the hardships under Hussein, “it is remarkable that Iraq has done as well as it has thus far.”

Others are more circumspect in evaluating these gains, looking to the 1980s – under Hussein’s rule – as a time when Iraqi society was much further ahead.

“By all measures and standards, there has been a deterioration in the quality of life of Iraqis as compared to 25 years ago,” said Khalid Khalid, who tracks Iraq’s progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the UN Development Programme (UNDP). “The invasion comes on top of sanctions that came before it and the Iran-Iraq war. It’s one continuous chain of events that led to the situation Iraqis are facing now.”

Mixed blessings

In the early 1980s, Iraq was regarded by many as the most developed state in the Arab world. The Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, the Gulf War of 1991 and subsequent years of sanctions took a heavy toll on developmental indicators, yet Iraq continued to have strong state institutions, even if they were used repressively to maintain Hussein’s power. For example, even after 10 years of an international embargo, the system of food ration distribution operated effectively.

The US invasion and subsequent civil conflict changed this, said Maria Fantappie, Iraq analyst at the International Crisis Group, as violence and de-Baathification drove away the human resources needed to run effective institutions. In many ways, the country has yet to recover.

“In 2003, that heritage of an efficient Iraqi state was completely lost,” Fantappie said. “We have the consequences of this until today… We are not yet at the level of state institutions that can deliver services equally to all citizens.”

Iraq is the only country in the Middle East where living standards have not improved compared to 25 years ago, the World Bank says. In areas such as secondary school enrolment and child immunization, Iraq now ranks lower than some of the poorest countries in the world.

“The war is just such a series of mixed blessings,” said Ned Parker, a former fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and long-time Iraq correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. “For every positive development, there’s a negative development that counters it.”

Looking at the data

IRIN has taken a look development and humanitarian indicators for Iraq, which show a decade of fits and starts, with progress in one area met by stagnation in another.

Of course, statistics in Iraq are often “wrong, simply not available or politically misused,” as one researcher put it. While a wealth of information and data exists, it comes from a multitude of sources using different methodologies, and much of it is based on relatively small sample sizes. The UN’s Information and Analysis Unit said in a 2008 report: “As is typical in volatile working environments, data reliability in some instances is questionable, contradictory figures exist, and geographic coverage of the indicators is often compromised for either security or political reasons.”

There are also huge discrepancies when national statistics are broken down by region, with the capital Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdish region in the north often the only governorates ranking above national average in measures of development. As Médecins sans Frontières wrote in a recent article in the Lancet journal, “Much more attention needs to be given to remote areas, where the reality for Iraqis has not substantially improved over the past 10 years.”

What is more, much of the progress is seen in indicators tracking inputs, like how many children enrol in school, rather than outcomes, such as how much they actually learn, said Sudipto Mukerjee, deputy head of UNDP in Iraq.

But even with these caveats, the best available data offer a complex portrait of a country that has seen improvement over the last decade, but is still largely struggling. For example, a recent overview of Iraq’s headway towards the Millennium Development Goals found great strides in the eradication of poverty over 1990 levels, but slower progress on primary education enrolment, which still lags behind 1990 levels.

A million Iraqis remain refugees, and over a million are internally displaced; sectarianism holds sway over political institutions; and healthcare is undermined by a lack of medical personnel, unreliable utilities and fragile national security. Women and girls, who once enjoyed more rights than other women in the region, now regularly find themselves excluded from school and work opportunities, though great progress has been made towards gender equality in recent years. While living conditions, clean water access, poverty rates and education levels are all disappointing compared to historical highs in the 1980s, they are greatly improved from the years Iraq spent under sanctions. And increased decentralization of power has offered some hope for the future.

No easy narrative can be accurately applied to the country’s experiences over the past 10 years, and in many ways, the direction the country has taken may only become clear over the decade to come.

Every day this week, we will bring you our findings on each of the following indicators. Check back regularly!

Water and Sanitation
Electricity
Displacement
Education
Poverty/Economic Growth
Health
Food Security/Malnutrition
Governance/Human Security
Gender
Aid work

In the process of our research, we’ve come across some interesting bits and pieces. For more, check out:

A recent Op-Ed by Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, where he makes the case that Iraq has progressed

The case for why the US intervention was necessary and successful – by Paul Wolfowitz

An entire issue of the Middle East Research and Information Project dedicated to the 10-year mark of Hussein’s toppling

The Guardian newspaper also has a special section on its website dedicated to articles on Iraq 10 years on from the invasion

A pioneering project to track the costs of American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: Costs of War

The National Democratic Institute has done a series of public opinion polls in Iraq since 2010. Here is the latest.

The UN’s Joint Analysis and Policy Unit for Iraq is a wealth of detailed, statistical information, including the Iraq Knowledge Network survey the UN helped conduct in 2011.

Over the years, a number of other household surveys have been conducted by the government in collaboration with various UN agencies, including the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), supported by UNICEF; the Iraq Household Socio-Economic Survey (IHSES), supported by the World Bank; the Iraq Living Conditions Survey, supported by UNDP; and the Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis, supported by WFP.

The government Central Statistics Organization has assembled statistics on human development indicators from various sources, from 1990 onwards, which you can find here.

The World Bank also allows you to download full sets of comparative statistics and the World Health Organization keeps year-by-year statistics since 1999 on each of the health-related Millennium Development Goals.

If you want to crunch numbers, check out the UN Human Development Reports over the years.

The UN recently took stock of Iraq’s progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, with less than 1,000 days to go before the deadline.

IRIN has coverage many of these issues over the years. Our Iraq archives are here.

An interesting debate in Foreign Affairs magazine about whether Iraq is on track.

The US auditor on Iraq reconstruction’s latest and final report that says $60 billion invested in Iraq’s reconstruction had “limited positive effects”

And on that theme, check out this cynical, almost satirical, book (and subsequent blog) by Peter Van Buren: We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.

af/ha/rz

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