UMass Amherst Professor Says Food Supply in Iraq Improving, but Malnutrition Still Serious

AMHERST, Mass. - Food supplies in Iraq are increasing under the United Nation’s 1996 agreement allowing the sale of oil to purchase basic food, but widespread malnutrition continues to be a serious problem, according to Peter Pellett, a University of Massachusetts nutrition professor.

Pellett, who chairs the UMass nutrition department, was team leader for a joint mission to Iraq this summer by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Program (WFP). Pellett headed a similar mission in 1995. "People are able to get more food, and the basic ration is available at a subsidized price," Pellett says. "But it is still not adequate." A recent report on the FAO/WFP mission concludes that basic food supplies provided under the "oil-for-food" deal have to be balanced with fruits, vegetables, and animal products in order to meet nutritional needs. "Compared to 1995, the change in overall food availability has been dramatic," Pellett says. But, he cautioned, that doesn’t mean the serious, long-term nutrition problems in Iraq have been solved.

Pellett says the improved food supplies began to reach the population in April, and by August, most people were getting about 1,000 additional calories per day due to the improved food shipments. Still, Pellett says, his mission continue in all parts of Iraq in all sections of the population, including adults. It is, however, especially serious among vulnerable groups such as children under age 5, hospital in-patients, orphans, displaced persons, and refugees.

The mission headed by Pellett also warned in its report: "There is now a concern that emergency assistance to vulnerable groups might be curtailed due to the widespread perception among donor countries that malnutrition problems have been solved," following the implementation of the "oil-for-food" deal.

Pellett says in addition to continuing the "oil-for-food" deal with Iraq, major improvements to the country’s water and sanitation systems are needed. Overall, Pellett says, there must also be economic development and investment throughout Iraq to boost purchasing power and rebuild the country’s agricultural system.

The joint FAO/WFP mission visited Iraq between June 9 and July 8. Its conclusions were based on field visits throughout Iraq, weighing and measuring more than 1,000 adults and 1,000 children, and discussions with Iraqi government ministries and departments, U.N. agencies, and other non-governmental agencies working in the country, Pellett says.