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One Quarter Of Iraqis Still Depend On Food Rations

One Quarter Of Iraqis Still Depend On Food Rations, Un Agency Survey Shows

Some 6.5 million people in Iraq - about a quarter of the country's population - are highly dependent on food rations, according to a new survey by the United Nations emergency feeding agency, which has launched a multimillion dollar assistance programme to help the most vulnerable Iraqis.

The World Food Programme's (WFP) "Baseline Food Security Assessment," the first of its kind in Iraq, says that of the 6.5 million people, some 2.6 million are so poor that they have to resell part of their food rations to buy basic necessities such as medicines and clothes.

A further 3.6 million Iraqis, 14 per cent of the population, would be at risk of hunger if the rationing system was discontinued, according to the survey. Experts estimate that 27 per cent of all children up to the age of five are already chronically malnourished - and without the rations provided by the public distribution system, that number would increase dramatically.

Even those who receive rations "are still struggling to cope," said Torben Due, Country Director for WFP's operations in Iraq. "Although food is generally available, the poorest households cannot afford to buy from the markets."

Following the survey, WFP launched a one-year, $60 million emergency operation targeting the most vulnerable groups in Iraq. It will be providing 67,000 tons of food to 220,000 malnourished children and their family members (over 1.1 million people), more than 1.7 million primary school children, 350,000 pregnant and lactating mothers and over 6,000 tuberculosis patients.

Despite the sobering new figures, Mr. Due had hopes for the long-term prospects. "Iraq is a country with a wealth of natural resources," he observed. "Once it stabilizes politically and economically it can take care of this portion of the population."

"But until that happens, external assistance will be required."

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