An Iraqi government survey conducted late 2008 has found that 95 percent of Iraqi families would prefer to keep the state’s free food programme running rather than replace it with financial aid, a government spokesman said on 3 January.
“We interviewed 15,000 families all over Iraq and have already presented the outcomes to all concerned governmental parties for consideration when adopting new measures in this regard,” Abdul-Zahra al-Hindawi, spokesman for the Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation, which conducted the survey, told IRIN.
However, al-Hindawi said that his ministry, which oversees economic and human development projects, supports the government plan to withhold the programme from well-to-do people and provide food solely to poorer families.
“It will benefit the Iraqi economy when money goes only to buy food for those who need it,” al-Hindawi told IRIN.
Iraq’s food rationing programme
|Trade Ministry moves to rationalise food aid system|
|Government to cut items from its free food handouts|
|Thousands without food and supplies due to failing distribution system|
Iraq’s food rationing system, known as the Public Distribution System (PDS), was set up in 1995 as part of the UN’s oil-for-food programme following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait 17 years ago. However, it has been crumbling since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 due to insecurity, poor management and corruption.
In late 2007, the Iraqi Trade Ministry, which runs the programme, was contemplating reducing the 10-item PDS parcels by half in 2008 due to lack of financial support and soaring world food prices. However, the idea was later dropped when the government allocated US$7.3 billion to keep the programme running in 2008. Each PDS parcel costs the government 500 Iraq dinars (less than 50 US cents) per person.
In mid-2008, the trade ministry said it was drawing up a plan to be implemented in 2009 that would restrict the food aid programme to the poor and that it would cooperate with the planning ministry in this regard.
Mohammed Hanoon, spokesman of the Iraqi Trade Ministry, said the government was under a lot of pressure to cut its 2009 budget due to low world oil prices and was therefore planning to allocate US$5 billion or less this year to the PDS. The Iraqi government depends on oil revenues for about 95 percent of its income.
“The cabinet has not yet responded to the ministry’s plan to reduce the number of beneficiaries and we cannot predict the fate of the food ration [system] this year or 2010,” Hanoon told IRIN.
Fears of no food aid
|Contents of a monthly |
PDS food parcel
|Rice: 3kg per person|
|Sugar: 2kg per person|
|Cooking oil: 1.25kg or one litre per person|
|Flour: 9kg per person|
|Milk for adults: 250g per person|
|Tea: 200g per person|
|Beans: 250g per person|
|Children's milk: 1.8kg per child|
|Soap: 250g per person|
|Detergents: 500g per person|
|Tomato paste: 500g per person|
With a government decision pending on who gets to receive PDS food parcels, some Iraqi citizens have expressed fears that they may be excluded.
“I think the government should first find solutions to unemployment and the paralyzed economy before it starts trimming or cancelling the food ration system, which covers 80 percent of my family’s food requirements,” Huda Kadhum, a 43-year-old housewife in Baghdad’s eastern Baladiate area, said.
Zaid Mohammed, a 37-year-old taxi driver in Baghdad, said: “It would be impossible to cancel the food ration system and leave us to the mercy of the merchants, especially as most Iraqi people, like me, make their living on a daily basis.”
According to the trade ministry, 80 percent of Iraqis benefited from the PDS during former president Saddam Hussein’s rule, and for 60 percent of the population the PDS food basket was their only food source.