WFP prepositions food ahead of potential Iraq humanitarian crisis

News and Press Release
Originally published
WFP needs US$23.5 million to build up food stocks in readiness for a potential flow of Iraqi refugees into neighbouring countries.
Amman, March 21- WFP is prepositioning food aid in readiness for the potential exodus of Iraqi refugees fleeing the Iraqi conflict into neighbouring countries.

With some 2.1 million people expected to require emergency assistance in the next four weeks, WFP has already built up sufficient supplies in the region to feed two million people for one month.

This figure covers the initial phase of the ongoing conflict, when WFP would be called upon to help refugees and conduct cross-border operations to help the malnourished and vulnerable inside Iraq.

WFP believes that most Iraqis' food reserves will last just six weeks.

To fund the contingency plan, the agency has asked donors for US$23.5 million, including US$16 million for 32,000 metric tons of food commodities.

To date, only US$9.1 million has been received for the contingency plan - including US$5 million from the United States, US$1.6 million from the UK, US$578,000 from Denmark and US$326,797 from Canada.

The agency has received an additional US$35 million from the US, but this is earmarked for logistics in the lagency's overall appeal for funding, due to go out as part of the UN appeal in the next few days.


The slow donor response sets a worrying precedent for a crisis in which WFP plans a phased series of operations.

After 12 years of economic sanctions, almost 60 percent of Iraq's population is dependent on the United Nations' Oil-for-Food programme for their entire food supply (see below for details).

When most Iraqi's food reserves start to run out, within the next six weeks, WFP may be called upon to sustain this monthly lifeline and assist the entire population of Iraq, about 27 million people.

At that stage, it may cost over one billion US dollars to provide Iraqi's with their basic food needs. According to WFP's regional information officer Khaled Mansour, "we may well soon be talking of the largest humanitarian operation in history."

Extensive WFP logistical planning will underly this second stage of the humanitarian operation.

Staff members are already in place, contracts with trucking companies have been drafted and communication equipment installed. The agency's transport network is ready to start-up at a moment's notice.

It is hoped that after four months providing for the whole country's food needs, Iraq would be able to launch its own food rationing system and WFP could scale down its operation.

At this stage, WFP would focus on a potential five million refugees sheltering outside Iraq as well as displaced and vulnerable populations inside the country.


WFP hopes that the food aid pipeline currently used for the UN Oil-for-Food Programme will continue to function, possibly under a revised UN resolution which takes into account the developing situation:

North Iraq: WFP implements the Oil-for-Food programme on behalf of the Government in the three northern governorates of Dahuk, Sulaymaniyah and Erbil, transporting, handling and distributing 36,000 metric tons of food and non-food commodities to 3.6 million people per month.

The agency also uses Oil-for-Food funds to supplement general food rations in northern Iraq through a Nutrition Programme, which targets some 634,000 vulnerable women children and elderly persons (see gallery).

Centre/South Iraq: the government is responsible for distributing a monthly food ration to 22 million people in the centre/south. Together with other UN agencies, WFP helps implement the Oil-for-Food programme by monitoring the fair distribution of humanitarian supplies.

As the lead agency for the Food Sector, WFP observers monitor the efficiency, adequacy and equity of the Public Distribution System.

UN Oil-for-Food Programme: the terms

  • The United Nations Oil-for-Food Programme was initiated in 1996 following the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 986, allowing Iraq to export oil and use the proceeds to arrest the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Iraq, in particular with regard to nutrition and health.
  • Under the Oil-for-Food Programme, all revenue from sales of Iraqi oil is put into an escrow account managed by the UN, which is then used to buy food and humanitarian supplies for the Iraqi people.
  • The programme is implemented in six month phases, renewed upon agreement by the UN Security Council and the government of Iraq
  • US$1,275 million has currently been allocated for the purchase of food and non-food commodities. Under the current terms, more than 430,000 metric tons of food are procured, shipped and distributed every month.
  • Almost 60 percent of Iraq's population is currently dependent on the Oil-for-Food programme for their entire food supply. Some 25 million people receive a monthly food ration made-up of imported commodities.