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Oil-for-Food Programme
Background Brief - Food

The Oil-for-Food Programme was established in April 1995 as a temporary measure to ease the unintended consequences of United Nations sanctions on Iraq's civilian population. The first Iraqi oil sold under the programme to pay for humanitarian supplies, was exported in December 1996 and the first shipments of food arrived in March 1997. As of 20 March 2003, the Oil-for-Food Programme covered 24 sectors of need and had prevented the further degradation of public services and infrastructure, making a significant difference in the humanitarian situation nationwide.

Under resolution 986 (1995) all Iraqi residents were entitled to receive the monthly Oil-for-Food basket and it was estimated that 60 per cent of the population were totally dependent on it. The nutritional value of the food basket almost doubled between 1996 and 2002 from 1200 to 2200 kcal/person/day. The supply of food commodities generally kept pace with national demand and contributed significantly towards price stability in the markets. A downward trend in the price of the food basket is reflected in the chart below. To learn more about the food basket


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The Government of Iraq procured food and basic medical supplies in bulk and was responsible for their distribution in the 15 central and southern governorates, and to UN warehouses in the northern cities of Kirkuk and Mosul. The World Food Programme (WFP) was responsible for food distribution on behalf of the Government of Iraq in the three northern governorates through a chain of some 11,000 food agents (corner stores). Government distribution of food, by the Ministry of Trade, in the centre and south was through some 44,358 food agents (corner stores).

Improvements to infrastructure in the food sector included the installation of cleaning, handling and fumigation equipment in grain silos to reduce storage and handling losses. The maintenance and repair of mills and the installation of generators  improved the reliability of flour milling operations. This in turn improved production capacity and the quality of flour available to the national food basket from more than 140 mills.

The three northern governorates

The size of the food basket increased during successive phases of the Oil-for-Food Programme and by December 1998, it had met its targeted level of 2200 kcal/person/day. In May 2002, the Programme achieved 91 per cent of the targeted 2,475 kcals. In January 2002, WFP embarked on a large-scale population verification exercise in the three northern governorates to further strengthen the equitability and accuracy of the distribution process.

A supplementary feeding project assisted the most vulnerable members of the population by targetting the specific needs of malnourished children, pregnant and lactating women, hospital in-patients, residents in social institutions and children in nurseries. These are groups that were not normally reached by the general food ration provided under Security Council resolution 986.

Other projects addressed household food security. Small ruminant livestock were provided to around 10,000 beneficiaries, mostly female-headed households. A beekeeping project targetted another 150. These projects further empowered women through literacy and technical skills training as well as by providing them with a source of lasting income. The Programme provided skills training for women in 10,200 female-headed households. A Women Skills Enhancement project  benefitted 2,000 women.