Sunday, July 17, 2005

Iraqis struggle to survive....

Not only do they have to worry about sucide bombers, lack of electricity and lack of water, but food is also becoming a major issue for many Iraqis.

The United Nations World Food Programme, which monitors the distribution of rations, recently reported "significant countrywide shortfalls in rice, sugar, milk and infant formula".Families in Baghdad have received no sugar or baby milk since January.

Newspapers have also begun reporting that the tea and flour hand-outs contain metal filings and that people have fallen ill after consuming food rations.Officials with the trade ministry, which is in charge of distributing the rations, said the media have created the crisis. But they have refused to release results of the tests for contamination they said they are doing.

Retail agents who sell the food baskets say the ministry is corrupt, a charge supported by Radhi Radhi, the government's anti-corruption chief.Mr Radhi said in a recent interview that trade ministry officials had spread rumours of contaminated food to discredit the current flour supplier and renegotiate the contract. Some agents speculate that ministry employees have added metal filings to cheat on the parcels' weight. The same employees also sell tea and flour on the black market, agents say.

More than half of Iraq's population lives below the poverty line. The median income fell from $255 in 2003 to about $144 in 2004, according to a recent UN survey.

The cost of tea and flour has almost tripled. At food markets, a 35-pound can of vegetable oil, which just a few months ago cost $4 - a little more than an average day's wage - now costs $12.