IRAQ: Government to cut items from its free food handouts
BAGHDAD, 4 December 2007 (IRIN) - From the beginning of 2008 the quantity of national food rations delivered freely to all Iraqi families will be further reduced - from 10 to five items, due to lack of government financial support, Trade Minister Abid Falah al-Soodani said on 3 December.
The food rations’ system, known as the Public Distribution System (PDS), was set up in 1995 as part of the UN’s Oil-for-Food programme after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait 17 years ago. However, it has been crumbling since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 due to insecurity, poor management and corruption.
“Since the government’s financial support will not be available next year, we will reduce the items from 10 to five and the quantities of the remaining items will not be the same as this year and in past years,” al-Soodani told parliament.
“We need US$5-6 billion instead of the US$3.1 billion allocated for the rations’ system in 2008 to cope with the soaring prices of these items on international markets. In addition, there has also been an increase in shipping and transportation costs worldwide and inside Iraq,” al-Soodani said.
Al-Soodani blamed corruption and manpower shortages in his ministry for the malfunctioning of the nationwide rations’ system, the poor quality of items distributed and delays in delivering them. He said his ministry had only 30,000 employees running the rations’ system for 30 million people.
He called on parliament and the government to consider replacing the current system with a means-tested system.
“We will kick off with a new plan next year and hope it works. We will check people’s income, and those with high incomes will either not be included in the system or will only receive some items,” he said. The plan envisages items to be distributed monthly would be: rice (3kg per person), sugar (2kg per person), cooking oil (1.25kg or one litre per person), flour (9kg per person) and milk for adults (250g per person). The items omitted would be: tea (200g per person), beans (250g per person), children’s milk (1.8kg per child), soap (250g per person), detergents (500g per person) and tomato paste (500g per person).
According to the Trade Ministry, 80 percent of Iraqis benefited from the PDS during Saddam Hussein’s rule, and for 60 percent of the population the food basket was their only source of support.
Plan could lead to hunger, says expert Mohammed Falah Ibrahim, a food security expert at the Baghdad health directorate, said cutting items from the food rations’ system would lead to hunger in many parts of Iraq. “These things should be studied very carefully, especially the cutting of children’s milk, because this will leave many poor families in danger and especially IDPs [internally displaced persons]," Ibrahim said.
“There should be a complementary plan in place to ensure that financial aid reaches those poor families who will be affected by this, otherwise many Iraqis could die of hunger," Ibrahim said.
Siham Ibrahim, a 55-year-old mother-of-eight, gave the lentils she got as part of her food rations to her chickens because she considered them so inferior. “It was our dream to receive full food rations with good quality food that human beings can eat,” said Siham. “Each month I went to the agent to receive the food rations and I was surprised this time to find that two or three items, such as the children’s milk, were missing. In fact, we have not received children’s milk for the past three months,” Siham, who has two children aged 2-5, said. Siham’s family is now forced to buy some of their food items from the market which costs them nearly US$150 a month.