Iraq + 1 more

Iraq Food Security Quarterly Update, January - March 2017


Key Issues

The humanitarian crisis in Iraq continues to be one of the largest and most complex in the world, with over 3 million Iraqis displaced since 2014 and the country hosting nearly 250 000 Syrian refugees. The needs of these displaced populations as well as of Iraqis indirectly affected by the crisis are enormous. According to the 2017 Humanitarian Response Overview, 11 million Iraqis will need humanitarian assistance in 2017. This number includes an estimated 3.2 million that may need assistance with food as well as 1.5 million individuals expected to face severe food insecurity. In response to these needs, humanitarian actors continue to provide life-saving assistance to those most affected by the crisis while laying a foundation for post-conflict development through interventions aimed at early recovery and resilience.

Humanitarian assistance efforts in the first quarter of 2017 were largely focused on the needs of populations displaced from operations to retake Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). From the beginning of operation in October 2016 to 30 March of this year, approximately 368 000 Mosul residents had been displaced. These newly displaced populations, comprised of households that have already exhausted their coping capacities following years of conflict, have primarily sought refuge in camps, where they have had access to vital humanitarian assistance. Approximately 81 000 of these residents who fled have returned to the city, where they have had to contend with the destruction brought about by the conflict as well as wait for markets and services to rebound. That said, already in April, with the consolidation of government control of east Mosul, markets are quickly restarting, to the point that multisectoral cash programming is commencing. However, for the residents of Mosul that remained throughout the fighting, particularly in the western half of the city, ensuring basic levels of access to food has been a struggle, with markets experiencing severe shortages and channels for humanitarian aid cut off.

Throughout operations to retake Mosul, a sharp contrast was visible in terms of food needs between western and eastern Mosul, with western neighborhoods still under ISIL control reporting high prices or commodities that are simply unavailable. At the end of March, nearly all commodities were no longer available and rice, sugar, and wheat flour were only available in several neighborhoods or only sporadically. In newly accessible areas of Mosul, residents have continued to rely upon humanitarian aid, but markets have once again emerged as the main source of food. While markets in accessible areas have resumed operation and prices have fallen and stabilized, the population has limited purchasing power leading to the widespread use of coping mechanisms and purchasing of food on credit. Thus, access to food remained a problem despite the fact that the cost of a food basket in eastern Mosul had fallen dramatically and was nearly identical to the prices found in Nineveh as a whole.

At the same time, outside of Mosul and other areas of Iraq that are still affected by high-intensity conflict, a number of positive developments related to food security could be observed. A range of food commodities were widely available in markets, including in areas recently affected by fighting, and on a national level, food became more accessible for vulnerable households as prices fell or stabilized. Differences between areas relatively unaffected by conflict and “hotspot areas”1 persisted, however, with localized disturbances and distortions resulting from increased demand following population movements.

A strong winter cereal harvest has been projected, based on favourable rainfall and weather conditions, which will likely mean that Iraq’s cereal import requirements will remain stable for the next year. At the same time, major long-term challenges persist in restoring the agriculture sector’s productivity, particularly in areas most affected by the crisis. Ongoing conflict in key wheat and barley producing areas in Nineveh, Kirkuk, and Salah Al-Din will continue to disrupt recovery efforts. In recently recovered areas, limited access to seeds, inputs and infrastructure will continue to pose long-term challenges in restoring production to pre-crisis levels. The government, in the meantime, has continued to provide fertilizers and pesticides in secure areas to ensure production continues.

Accordingly, ensuring the food security of the country’s population will continue to involve the provision of urgent assistance as well as resilience and recovery interventions. For the country as a whole, macroeconomic instability, dependence on oil prices, sectarian violence, and political uncertainty pose long-term challenges for food security. At the same time, one of the best means of addressing these destabilizing factors is to restore the productive base of areas of the country most affected by conflict. Meeting the needs of conflict-affected populations – IDPs, returnees, and residents of hard-to-reach areas – will be of utmost importance as they remain most vulnerable to food insecurity. IDPs have been most adversely affected, with increasing numbers reporting poor or borderline food consumption scores and resorting to negative coping strategies. These households, and particularly ones living in hard-to-reach areas, earn less and pay more for basic food commodities. They also have less access to the Public Distribution System (PDS), the government’s rationing system, as well as humanitarian assistance due to the conflict. households living in these governorates faced challenges accessing food.

• The JPMI 4 observed slight month-on-month increases in the Survival Minimum Expenditure Basket, (SMEB), a basket of food and non-food items (NFI) such as cooking fuel. At the same time, fewer shortages were reported and prices in secondary markets became relatively more expensive in relation to central district markets.