At the end of August, we will see a U.S. withdrawal of troops from Iraq. But there is another withdrawal already under way in Iraq: humanitarian aid.
Low funding has forced the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to significantly cut programs that benefit Iraqi school children and malnourished children under the age of five.
Caroline Legros, a WFP officer in Iraq says, “The plan of reaching 1.76 million beneficiaries (960,000 primary school children and 800,000 pregnant/nursing women, malnourished children under 5, and their families) has been revised to just under 300,000 beneficiaries in total.”
The school feeding program was started to help children living in the most impoverished districts in the country. WFP initially reached about 170,000 children with the program last year. WFP’s Robin Lodge reported on one of these early distributions of school feeding.
Mid-morning food, consisting of date bars fortified with iron and vitamin A, is provided daily to boost children’s nutrition level and improve classroom performance. Imagine what this means to a family living in poverty and struggling to put food on the table each day. This extra food provided at school serves as an incentive for families to send their kids to school in the first place.
WFP wanted to expand school feeding to reach 960,000 Iraqi children, but the lack of funding has put a halt to this. The school feeding was to include, in time, a local production component to help the Iraqi economy. If funding is restored, this is another byproduct of school feeding that could be realized.
Low funding for the World Food Programme is preventing a school feeding program from reaching over 900,000 Iraqi children. (WFP photo)
For the youngest of all children, and pregnant mothers, poor nutrition has reached a critical level. WFP reports that “Global acute malnutrition (GAM) or wasting among children under 5… reaches 15 percent in the most-vulnerable districts.”
That is why the WFP program to provide rations to families with malnourished children or pregnant women is especially important. The program also encourages attendance at health care clinics. The funding needs to be restored so it can reach all families in need.
WFP also wants to run Cash or Food for Work programs to help with rehabilitation of farmland and other vital projects. Edward Kallon, WFP country director says, “We also have the capacity to scale up our assistance if additional funding is confirmed.”
The Iraqis’ situation points once again to the importance of the U.S. establishing a food ambassador or global hunger envoy to solve these problems. The U.S. can provide consistent and meaningful leadership to rally the international support needed to prevent hunger and malnutrition in Iraq and other countries.
WFP needs 235 million dollars for a two-year program in Iraq. International cooperation can help Iraq restore these food assistance initiatives.