Comprehensive food security and vulnerability analysis in Iraq 2007/2008

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Scope and Methods

The after-effects of war and a general economic slowdown, further exacerbated by 13 years of economic sanctions, have adversely affected Iraq's food security. The prevailing climate of insecurity and political uncertainty further complicates the situation. As a result, large parts of the population continue to depend on the monthly food ration provided under the Public Distribution System (PDS) which was introduced by the Government of Iraq in 1991 and managed by the Ministry of Trade. The PDS is designed to provide all Iraqis with a monthly food and non-food rations at a heavily subsidized price.

Based on the 2003 and 2005 surveys, it was concluded that while Iraq was a country with a wealth of natural resources it would need external help until it stabilized, politically and economically. Currently, the PDS remains the main safety net for the most vulnerable populations in Iraq. However, the food supply chain performance is not as efficient as expected to provide the food requirements for the entire population. This has been exacerbated by the massive movement of populations within the country, thus increasing food insecurity and humanitarian needs.

The dramatic events of Samarra in February 2006 with the destruction of the holy shrine represented a dramatic benchmark and marked the beginning of one of the major displacements of people ever recorded.

In August 2007, the UN Security Council Resolution 1770 called, inter alia, for increased humanitarian assistance in support of the most vulnerable Iraqi people.

The Survey was carried out in late 2007 by WFP with UNICEF, NRI, COSIT, and the Kurdistan Region Statistics Office (KRSO). The survey covered the 18 governorates of the country, including the three governorates of the Kurdistan Region. The Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis (CFSVA) main objective was to continue assessing and monitoring the food security and vulnerability situations in Iraq. Two approaches/tools were used to generate information on the core questions of the CFSVA, a household survey and secondary data. The primary objectives of the CFSVA were to provide a reliable and detailed assessment of the current food security and vulnerability situations within Iraq; to assess the causes and risk factors for food insecurity and childhood malnutrition; and to identify pockets of vulnerability where assistance may be required in the future. The answers to these questions are intended to assist WFP and Government of Iraq in their decision-making processes on how better to focus and target activities and help policymakers in exploring options to establish a food security based safety net.

The questionnaire was made available in three languages (Arabic, Kurdish and English). Arabic was used to cover populations in the centre/south of Iraq and Kurdish was used in Kurdistan Region.

The survey covered all 115 districts in Iraq. A classic random cluster sampling approach was adopted with districts used as primary clusters. The cluster design factorial was set at 115x15x15 (115 districts with 15 clusters and 15 households within each cluster) to yield 225 households in each district and 25,875 households across all 18 governorates in Iraq.

Who are the food insecure?

Households most vulnerable to food insecurity included non-skilled workers, agricultural workers and unemployed heads of households. Amongst households relying on any of these activities, almost one in each four was food insecure or vulnerable to food insecurity. The least affected households mainly relied on self-employment in non-agricultural work and public servants.

How many are they?

An estimated population of 930,000 (3.1% of the households sampled) were classified as food insecure. The findings of this survey also indicate that an additional 9.4 percent of the population (2.8 million) is extremely dependant upon the PDS food ration, without which they could be expected to become food insecure. This group along with the 12.3 percent food secure households in the poorest income quintiles (less than 1 USD per capita per day) would be rendered food insecure if no sustainable safety net programmes to address the needs of those vulnerable are in place. Results indicate significant improvement from the estimated four million people (15.4%) food insecure and a further 8.3 million people (31.8%) potentially food insecure if they were not provided with a PDS ration as reported in the previous survey. Several factors may have contributed to this significant and positive trend and might include: (i) an overall security improvement; (ii) improvement in some macroeconomic indicators that are used to monitor the level of economic growth in Iraq including Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and (iii) humanitarian enhanced efforts of all stakeholders including GoI, UN organizations, and NGOs during the period of 2006-2007.

Where do they live?

Four clusters, or four groups of districts, were identified as follows:

- Cluster 1 "Better off" is made up of 44 districts, of 18.4 million people of which only one percent of its population were identified as food insecure and 5 percent are vulnerable to food insecurity. This group is mainly made of urban districts (66%) characterized by low and moderate levels of poverty and food insecurity and lower malnutrition rates.

- Cluster 2 "Moderate" is made up of 30 districts of 4.9 million people, of which 2 percent are food insecure and 10 percent are vulnerable to food insecurity. This group, mainly rural districts (75%), characterized by low levels of food insecurity and malnutrition rates and a moderate level of poverty similar to the national average.

- Cluster 3 "Vulnerable" is made up of 24 districts with a population of 3.4 million of which 5 percent are food insecure and 15 percent are vulnerable to food insecurity. This cluster is characterized by moderate to high levels of poverty and malnutrition rates.

- Cluster 4 "extremely vulnerable" is made up of 17 districts with a total population of 2.9 million of which 16 percent are food insecure and 32 percent are vulnerable to food insecurity. This cluster is characterized by the highest rates of food insecurity and poverty in the country. Five districts out of the 17 are also characterized by alarming level of stunting rate.

What are the underlying causes of food insecurity?

In this survey, the main factors affecting food insecurity in Iraq consisted of the following:

- Wealth status;

- Income and expenditure;

- Education level of the head of households;

- Geographic location (urban vs. rural);

- Sex of household head (female headed more vulnerable).

What are the interventions recommended?

Based on the results of this CFSVA, a programme for intervention could offer some of the following elements:

- Targeted food aid reaching most vulnerable and food insecure groups;

- Food for training to teach mothers childcare and nutrition best practices;

- Food for education among the poorest areas to ensure children receive their nutritional requirements and remain in school, with particular emphasis placed on female attendance;

- Scaling up micronutrient programmes including iodine in salt and vitamin A and iron fortification.

Findings from the CFSVA also provide some guidance on what non food interventions or activities should be prioritized. This CFSVA recommended that special attention should be paid to the following:

- Capacity building for government institutions to enhance their ability to monitor and analyse food security trends;

- Capacity building for public and private institutions in establishing adequate food based safety net targeting the most vulnerable segments of the population;

- Improving maternal and child care practices;

- Working to improve nutrition through appropriate actions in agriculture, rural development, water supply and sanitation, social protection, education, gender and community-driven development.