Thousands without food and supplies due to failing distribution system

Thousands of Iraqis are going without food and basic supplies as the country’s food distribution infrastructure crumbles, according to a new report.

The country’s Public Distribution System (PDS), set up in 1995 as part of the UN’s Oil-for-Food programme, has been hit by insecurity, poor management, corruption and a lack of political will.

”The effectiveness and efficiency of the PDS … have declined significantly,” said the report issued on 10 April by the Washington-based NGO Refugees International (RI), an advocacy group.

“Iraq’s internally displaced are in desperate need of assistance as the PDS that they and other Iraqis depend on for food and fuel is broken,” added the RI report.

“Administrative corruption has weakened the efficiency of the distribution system. Those supply convoys that do reach their destination often carry only limited amounts of the PDS basket, with key items missing,” the report said.

Eighty percent of Iraqis benefited from the PDS (operated by the Ministry of Trade) during the rule of Saddam Hussein; for 60 percent of them the food basket was their only source of support.

However, vulnerability and food insecurity have increased in many areas following the ousting of Saddam.

In late February and early March, RI visited the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq, where at least 150,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have sought shelter in the relatively safe region. However, RI found that the IDPs were unable to access the PDS due to administration problems.

''Administrative corruption has weakened the efficiency of the distribution system''

PDS cards are issued according to a specific region, and families must apply for new cards through the Ministry of Trade when they relocate.

The RI said that the Iraqi government is not transferring the IDPs’ cards for political reasons. The NGO believes that the authorities are reluctant to issue new cards so as not to mix the ethnic and sectarian make-up of the country’s different regions.

“Given Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic strife, any demographic shifts are inherently laden with political implications. Both the Iraqi government, dominated as it is by a Shiite coalition, and the Kurdish government in the north are reluctant to lose their constituencies due to the displacement,” RI stated.

RI concluded that Iraqi and US forces should increase security for the PDS supply road convoys and for the PDS warehouses; fight corruption; and establish a temporary PDS card system so that the displaced can receive their rations without any implications for their permanent residence or their voting status.

Approached by IRIN, Iraqi government officials at the Ministry of Trade refused to comment on the report.

sm/ar/jm