Following a two-month period of disruption, food distribution by the Iraqi trade ministry was proceeding well two days after the programme resumed on Sunday, a World Food Programme (WFP) source said. About 27 million Iraqis nationwide are expected to receive their food rations from thousands of distribution agents this month.
"I think under the circumstances the distribution has resumed quite well," Khaled Mansour, a WFP spokesman, told IRIN from the capital, Baghdad. While there remained difficulties affecting transport and the flow of food from warehouses to the 44,000 distribution agents nationwide, given the magnitude of the logistics involved, he described the effort as a major achievement.
"We have some problems and we are working on solving them," Mansour said, noting that WFP had alerted the trade ministry to the issue and was in constant contact with the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs (ORHA).
According to a WFP statement over the weekend announcing the programme's resumption, some 440,000 mt of urgently needed food assistance had been imported by the food agency over the past two months. The ongoing effort is being described as a vital social safety net in a country where 16 million people are believed to be entirely dependent on monthly food rations after two decades of war and stringent economic sanctions.
"With the restoration of the public distribution system, we are confident that we can avert any hunger among Iraqis," the WFP executive director, James Morris, reportedly said. "With generous donor support and resources available from the Oil-for-Food Programme, WFP has been able to launch one of its greatest logistics operations ever."
"We have enough food and donations to run this programme for maybe five months to come," Mansur said, noting that any existing shortages would be covered by Oil-for-Food Programme contracts.
But the administration of such a huge programme by a war-weakened government remains a daunting task. "You need to have people in warehouses, food agents and others, doing the work with tools that have been hit hard by the war," he said.
In an effort to mitigate such problems, WFP has already worked to re-establish the food beneficiary database of some 1.5 million people living in the southern city of Basra, and will continue to assist the trade ministry when necessary.
Other issues concern reports that some food agents have been charging more than the normal 20 US cents for the 18-kg ration composed of such basic foods as wheat flour, rice, sugar, pulses, and vegetable oil.
"These are some of the issues that we will be looking into with the Ministry of Trade, but they are not major problems, and have not stopped the food distribution effort from going on," Mansour said.
WFP notes security as one of the greatest threats to Iraq's vast public distribution system, and has provided the ORHA with a complete list of silos, mills and warehouses in the country to ensure that proper security arrangements can be made.
"We are looking forward to a day before the end of this year when the authorities in Iraq can assume full responsibility for this programme or find other mechanisms to ensure food security - either through the market or though a scaled-down rationing system for the most vulnerable," Morris, who has visited Baghdad, said.
Under the current six-month emergency operation, WFP plans to bring about 2.2 million mt of food commodities into Iraq.
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