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IRAQ-SYRIA: WFP food aid for Iraqi IDPs, refugees in Syria

BAGHDAD, 8 January 2008 (IRIN) - Iraqi officials and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have welcomed the UN World Food Programme’s (WFP) emergency operation announced on 3 January to provide food aid to displaced Iraqi families.

The programme, worth US$126 million, will run for a year and target 750,000 of the most vulnerable internally displaced persons (IDPs) inside Iraq, as well as over 360, 000 Iraqi refugees in Syria.

Saad Haqi, head of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS), told IRIN the operation would start in the next few days. He said the IRCS would form joint teams with WFP "to reach all displaced families in every corner of Iraq".

WFP would look at data supplied by IRCS and other NGOs to determine which IDPs were most in need of food aid, he said.

The initiative has been welcomed by the Iraqi authorities. Abdul-Khaliq Zankan, head of the parliamentary Displacement and Immigration Committee said: “We thank and highly appreciate any help especially during winter as families are in dire need of almost everything.”

WFP aid is all the more important at this time as the release of further government funds to help IDPs cannot happen until the 2008 budget is approved by parliament, Zankan told IRIN in a phone interview.

He also warned against bureaucracy and corruption: “We want fairness and transparency in food distribution otherwise corruption will hinder the efforts to [assist] the families most in need,” Zankan said.

Basil al-Azawi, chairman of the Iraqi Commission for Civil Society Enterprises (ICCSE), a coalition representing over 1,000 different Iraqi NGOs, praised the WFP operation as “fabulous, ambitious and very huge”.

“This operation should start with [assisting] families… in areas where military operations and militants are preventing families from receiving aid,” al-Azawi said.

“Growing humanitarian crisis”

Iraq’s WFP director, Stefano Porretti, blamed the continuing violence for Iraq’s “growing humanitarian crisis”.

“An increasing number of displaced people cannot meet their food needs and therefore require more help,” said Porretti in the 3 January WFP statement. “We hope the food assistance we provide can help avert a much bigger crisis,” he said.

In Iraq, WFP will supply a complementary food package, consisting of wheat flour, white beans and vegetable oil to those unable to get their subsidised food rations due to various difficulties, including the transfer of their ration cards to their new places of residence.

In Syria, home to over 1.5 million Iraqis - many of whom have no savings, no income and no means of support - monthly food rations consisting of rice, vegetable oil and lentils will be distributed - initially to some 155,000 most vulnerable people and to 360,000 by the end of 2008, the WFP statement said.

Testimony

Military operations and attacks by militants have prevented the family of Ihsan Namiq Hassan from getting their local food rations since they left Diyala, about 60km northeast of Baghdad, last August.

“We are now 100 percent dependent on the food items that we receive from the Iraqi Red Crescent Society [IRCS] as we can't go back every month to Diyala to get our food rations," Hassan, a 52-year-old father of six, told IRIN in a phone interview from a makeshift camp in northeastern Baghdad.

“Although its [IRCS] items are not enough and not always in good condition they help us survive, especially as the children get milk and flour - things I can't afford to buy on a daily basis," Hassan said.

sm/ar/cb

Theme (s): Food Security, Refugees/IDPs,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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