ROME, March 17 (Reuters) - An appeal by the United Nations World Food Programme to feed hungry Iraqis in a possible war has received an inadequate response and the body warned on Monday that massive funding could be needed if the conflict drags on.
"We are not on target," WFP's chief spokesman Trevor Rowe told Reuters, referring to a $23 million initial contingency appeal which has so far received pledges of just $7.5 million.
"We would have to chase contributions virtually instantly once the war starts, and we're going to have to have lots of money really fast," he added.
Rome-based WFP is having to draw down its own funds for the initial contingency appeal until donors come forward, WFP officials said, adding the response to the appeal was slow because the emergency has not begun yet.
WFP has mobilised thousands of tonnes of food aid in countries bordering Iraq to hand out to hungry Iraqis soon after any attack, WFP officials said.
WFP, the world's biggest food aid agency, might have to feed most Iraqis if the U.N.-backed oil-for-food programme broke down, they said.
Some 60 percent of Iraq's 25 million people, still living under U.N. trade sanctions imposed on Baghdad after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, depend totally on the public food handouts.
WFP's sister agency, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is ready to help rebuild Iraqi food production and combat the spread of animal diseases after any attack, an FAO official said on Monday.
"We've taken steps to make sure we are prepared for any eventuality," the Rome-based FAO official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.
He declined to give details. After previous conflicts, FAO has provided technical assistance to boost food production and prevent the spread of livestock diseases across boundaries.
Iraq's cereals harvest, mainly wheat and barley, is expected around May/June and FAO officials are very concerned about the impact of a possible war on food production.
Barring disruptions to farming caused by conflict, Iraq is expected to have a more or less similar similar sized crop to 2002 when it produced some 800,000 tonnes of wheat and 600,000 tonnes of barley, another FAO official said.
Lately, Iraq has produced around a quarter of its cereal needs and imported the remainder, the official added.
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