“Dismal shortage of cash” threatens hungry Iraqis
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) gave a warning Wednesday that a 56 percent funding shortfall is jeopardizing the agency’s emergency operation in Iraq, aimed at supporting more than three million people – over half of them children.
Despite a recent generous donation of wheatflour from the Indian government (valued at US$2.5 million), WFP’s US$66 million operation which runs until the end of this year, has received only US$ 29 million, or 44 percent of the funds required.
The operation, launched a year ago in September 2004, aims to provide 67,000 metric tons of food to assist over 1.7 million extremely impoverished primary school children, 220,000 malnourished children and their family members (totalling over 1.1 million), 350,000 pregnant and lactating women and more than 6,000 tuberculosis patients.
“We provide food to those who cannot support themselves - children, women and the chronically sick. If we don’t get more funding soon, we will no longer be able to assist them,” warned Calum Gardner, WFP’s Country Director for Iraq. "So far, we have been able to help nearly 1.5 million people, which is tremendous, but of course we want very much to reach more of those who we know are vulnerable."
“In July this year, donors again pledged millions of dollars for Iraq’s reconstruction yet we find ourselves dismally short of cash,” said Gardner. “The hungry in Iraq should be at the top of donors’ lists; instead they seem to be at the bottom. It’s hard to understand.”
Recent health and nutrition statistics in Iraq indicate the growing negative impact on the most vulnerable of decades of conflict, economic sanctions, unemployment, illiteracy and insecurity. According to a WFP food security survey published last year, over 27 percent of all children under the age of five are chronically malnourished – despite receiving food rations from the government’s Public Distribution System (PDS). The survey underlined that without the PDS, this number would increase dramatically.
“Rebuilding Iraq’s infrastructure is an important part of reconstruction, but also critical is getting girls and boys back into the classroom. Our food-for-education programme is doing just that,” said Gardner.
WFP also provides crucial training in nutrition and food security management in several Iraqi national institutions.
“Our ultimate aim is for Iraqis to run this operation themselves – we have put a strong emphasis on investing in the human capital of Iraq – its people,” explained Gardner. "With its wealth of natural resources, we hope that in the long term the country will fend for itself. Until then, there are many impoverished people who are desperately in need of food assistance; we intend to help them as long as we have the means to do so.”