Security conditions in Iraq have gradually improved since the defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) at the end of 2017. However, significant challenges persist as the nation struggles with political instability, social unrest, economic volatility and low standards of living. With the poverty rate at a steady 23%, Iraqis are in need of humanitarian assistance to fight the next uprising – hunger. In 2016, data collection concluded that 53% of Iraqi residents and 66% of internally displaced people are vulnerable to food insecurity. Current social conditions are sowing the seeds for hunger in Iraq, but the potential exists for future improvement.
ISIL and Current Conditions
The nation is facing a multifaceted food security challenge, as the years it spent under ISIL’s military campaigns exacerbated issues such as limited water supply, damaged homes and disrupted food production. Water shortages and the lack of affordable agricultural inputs continue to negatively affect the performance of Iraq’s large farming sector. Additionally, families are reporting limited livelihood opportunities, reducing their purchasing power and restricting their access to the public distribution system – a social safety net program.
With the insurgent infiltration, Iraq lost the majority of its annual wheat and barley harvests, which had once combined to contribute to over one-third of the nation’s cereal production. Moreover, ISIL expropriated over 1 million tons of wheat in 2015 and left it to rot, worsening food insecurity in Iraq. The remaining farmers are unable to harvest their crops due to issues like lack of machinery or fuel, unexploded mines in their fields and inter-ethnic retribution. If farmers and herders experience displacement or are unable to venture to their fields, the future of agricultural production will remain bleak and have strong implications for long-term food security.
The Future of Food Insecurity
Experts expect that food security conditions will keep deteriorating due to the high volume of internally displaced persons (IDPs) straining hosting communities. As of 2019, almost 2 million people remain displaced in Iraq, and over 245,000 Syrian refugees are living in or have fled toward cities in the northern Kurdish region of Iraq. Furthermore, a renewed COVID-19 surge in the Middle East will further test the resilience of Iraq and neighboring countries, as the pandemic could lead 265 million people to suffer from “acute food insecurity, which requires urgent food, nutrition, and livelihoods assistance for survival.”
Therefore, the United Nations is calling on governments, non-government organizations and donors to address the “availability, access and affordability of safe and nutritious foods and protect the nutrition of … vulnerable families.” For instance, the World Food Programme (WFP) is helping Iraq’s most vulnerable people strengthen their capacities to absorb, adapt and transform in the face of shocks and long-term stressors. WFP has been operating in Iraq since 1968, providing emergency food assistance and aiding the government with social service reforms. With millions of displaced Iraqis and IDPs, the WFP is providing monthly food assistance to 1.5 million displaced people across all 18 districts through cash assistance and monthly family rations.
As the humanitarian crisis endures, millions of families living in protracted displacement situations are reaching a breaking point. These families are continuing to face constrained access to basic services and critical protection risks and are in desperate need of life-saving aid.
However, the Iraqi government has proven ineffective in resolving hunger in Iraq as it struggles to reconcile current social and economic unrest. Proactive policy-making and international aid are essential to halting the impending vicious cycle that starts with hunger and feeds back into the protracted conflict. Rather than sowing the seeds for hunger in Iraq, governments and humanitarian organizations alike have the power to cultivate hope for thousands.
– Carlie Chiesa