Food security and vulnerability analysis in Iraq



In the early 1990s, and in response to the imposition of international sanctions, the Government of Iraq established the Public Distribution System (PDS) which ensured that every citizen received a monthly ration of detergent, infant formula, milk, pulses, rice, salt, soap, sugar, tea, vegetable oil, weaning cereal and wheat flour. In the push to ensure greater food security in Iraq, WFP and COSIT launched the country's first household survey in 2003 to assess both food security and vulnerability. That Baseline Food Security Assessment found that, despite the PDS, food insecurity persisted in Iraq for a significant segment of the population who faced serious difficulties accessing food. Chronic poverty, a lack of job opportunities and inadequate purchasing power were all contributing to Iraq's overall food insecurity.

The first survey concluded that approximately 11 percent (2.6 million people) of the Iraqi population were extremely poor and vulnerable to food insecurity and, were the PDS to be discontinued, an additional 3.6 million people would face a high probability of being food insecure.

Despite the fact that the PDS continues to exist, it is increasingly unable to provide adequate food for Iraq's poorest households. It is in this context that the current household survey must be viewed. The current study was intended to create an improved understanding of the problems facing Iraqis today, identify areas for intervention and to provide information to assist policymakers. The questionnaire for the study 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 Sulaymaniyah. The survey covered 22,050 households across all 98 districts in Iraq in 16 governorates excepting those in Erbil and Dohuk. Statistical analysis was conducted using the Principal Component Analysis and a clustering technique in addition to the basic statistical methodologies (i.e. means, frequencies, correlations).

Seven leading indicators were analyzed, namely Stunting, Underweight, Wasting, Percentage Extremely Poor Population (spending less than US$15 per month), PDS ration Dependency Rate, Coping Strategy Index and Income. These seven indicators were used along with the dietary diversity indicator to identify the food insecure and the levels of severity in food insecurity and poverty. Using the data collected, this study set out to answer the following questions:

- Who are the food insecure?

- Why are they food insecure?

- How many are food insecure?

- Where do the food insecure live?

- How can food aid make a difference?

Who are the food insecure?

In general, the food insecure in Iraq can be found in those families with low incomes living in rural areas (69 percent of the food insecure in Iraq) who have poor or borderline dietary diversity. The heads of such food insecure households in Iraq are either unemployed (26 percent) or parttime workers engaged in agriculture either as marginal farmers (25 percent), non-skilled labourers (15 percent) or agricultural wage earners (5 percent). Women constitute a low percentage (14 percent) of those employed within the 16 to 60 years old age group. Children are also major victims of food insecurity. The chronic malnutrition rate of children in food insecure households was estimated as 33 percent. Chronic malnutrition affects the youngest children aged 12 months to 23 months most severely. Acute malnutrition in Iraq is also alarming with 9 percent of Iraqi children being acutely malnourished. The highest rate (13 percent) of wasting was found in children aged 6 to <12 months old followed by 12 percent for those aged 12 months to 23 months.

Why are they food insecure?

Decades of conflict and economic sanctions have had serious effects on Iraqis. Their consequences have been rising unemployment, illiteracy and, for some families, the loss of wageearners. Iraq's food insecurity is not simply due to a lack of production of sufficient food at the national level, but also a failure of livelihoods to guarantee access to sufficient food at the household level. The results of this study suggest that food insecurity in Iraq is a result of many chronic factors and their complicated interactions, amongst which are the following:

Weak infrastructure: as a result of conflict, which has destroyed much of Iraq's infrastructure in many sectors. Water and sanitation in particular continue to undermine the community's ability to recover. An estimated 22 percent in extremely poor districts are dependant on water tankers and vehicles as a main source of drinking water compared to 4 percent in the better-off districts. In addition 18 percent depend on streams, rivers and lakes for their water supplies in the poorer areas compared to 8 percent in the better-off districts.

Unemployment: is a major problem in Iraq. Human capital and skills of the poor are very low and there are serious problems for the poor to enter into the current labour market where prevailing security conditions do not necessarily make it an attractive proposition. Job creation is key to reducing vulnerability to food insecurity in Iraq. Private and public sector job creation activities could serve the dual purpose of improving infrastructure and transferring cash to Iraq's poorest households.

Education: The educational levels of a population have an impact on accessibility to food. The more educated generally have greater ability to cope with a variety of difficult situations, and are likely to have a higher probability of finding employment.

It is clear that the Public Distribution System (PDS) is still a major indicator in stabilizing food security in Iraq where 15 percent of the total population are living in extreme poverty and spending less than US$0.50 per day. The value of the food commodities in the PDS ration when the data was collected in July 2005 equalled US$15, a threefold increase on the market price that existed during the previous survey in 2003. For the poor and food insecure population, the PDS ration represents by far the single most important food source in the diet. Social protection mechanisms targeting these groups should be carefully considered. Monitoring of market prices also enhances the policymaker's capacity to take timely, remedial actions that would reduce the potential risks of price-related shocks.

How many are food insecure?

The survey found that just over four million people (15.4 percent of the surveyed population) are food insecure and in dire need of different types of humanitarian assistance including food despite the PDS rations they are receiving. This is an increase from the estimated 11 percent which were found to be 'extremely poor' in WFP's 2003 Baseline Survey.

The current survey also indicates that a further 8.3 million people (31.8 percent of the surveyed population) would be rendered food insecure if they were not provided with a PDS ration. Thus, if the PDS is discontinued without a careful assessment of the needs of the population, an estimated 47 percent of the total population will face real difficulties in ensuring their food security.