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Bread shortage hits Baghdad

[Iraq] People push against the door of Baghdad’s main bakery desperate to get bread rations.
People push against the door of Baghdad’s main bakery desperate to get bread rations (Mike White)

Angry scenes are erupting daily at Baghdad's largest bakery as city residents fight to obtain one of the staples of their diet. On Sunday, a crowd of several hundred people pushed against the door of the formerly government-run Baghdad Bakery to try and get their ration of 40 plain white rolls known as samon.

Many endure the queues daily, some lining up for more than four hours for their bag of bread. A Baghdad resident, Roubain Hayrick, said that life was difficult enough in Baghdad without having to struggle to get the bread they ate with every meal. "Every day I can get it, but it's very hard. There is no control."

With many people having a reduced income because of the conflict, he said, this was the cheapest place to buy bread. The 40 rolls he was hoping to get would cost 1,000 Iraqi dinars, about US 50 cents. At a private bakery, the same amount would cost four times that. On top of bread prices, he said other food was very expensive, often three times what it had been before the war.

Another in the long queue, 60-year-old Izz al-Din Muhammad Amin said the main problem was that people no longer had any gas to enable them to bake bread in their ovens at home. Moreover, even if you could find gas nowadays, it was 10 times the normal price, he explained. He urged the bakery to come up with a better system for selling the bread so that such a large and at times unruly crowd would not gather at the bakery door. "Everything is going wrong - one [distribution] point is not enough," he said.

But the bakery's manager, Salah Hearmz, explained that it was impossible to sell bread outside the gates. The bakery used to have vehicles selling directly to the people in their neighbourhoods, but looters had stolen many of these cars, and it was not safe for staff to go out now.

He agreed that the daily crowd was a problem, and had on Sunday enlisted Iraqi police to try and keep order. However, he said, the police no longer wielded any authority, and there was no respect for them, so what was needed was the presence of American troops. He had approached the US army, but had had little luck to date "The situation is critical for the people. Some days we run out of bread, and still people are waiting."

Hearmz said the factory, which uses 10 mt of flour a day, had remained open throughout the war. But he was worried that vital supplies would run out soon. He has so far been able to access stocks of flour and yeast held by the former Iraqi trade ministry, but has no idea how long these can last. In addition to raw materials, a fresh supply of gas for the ovens and oil for the giant bakery machines were also needed, he said. "We have enough now, for three days maybe, but we will need more," he said.

On Friday, a second convoy organised by the World Food Programme (WFP) arrived in the capital from Jordan. WFP hopes to start regular convoys to Baghdad as part of the agency's efforts to increase the flow of food aid to warehouses in Iraq's major urban centres ready for distribution in May. WFP aims to provide enough food aid to cover the needs of the entire Iraqi population for the next three months - equivalent to 480,000 mt of food commodities each month.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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