Tons of ration items for the previous months are piled up in Uncle Mahmoud's shop, because a small number of citizens receive their rations on time each month and do not care much about it.
"In previous years, citizens used to come to us monthly (on time) to inquire about the arrival of the food ration, but things are different now, as you can see. The items of the previous months are piled in my shop, and they do not come to receive them," says Mahmoud Anwar, the food distribution agent in Tapa neighborhood in the center of northern, oil-rich city of Kirkuk.
The decline in the demand of Kirkuk citizens to receive the monthly food ration comes at a time when the Iraqi government announced the addition of several items to the food ration, with the aim of helping low-income people facing poverty.
On December 19, 2022, the Iraqi Council of Ministers added five new items to the food ration, for the poor and low-income segment who are covered by the social welfare network. The increase includes a kilogram of sugar, a liter of cooking oil, 200 grams of tea, 250 grams of powdered milk and a kilogram of white flour.
A source in the Kirkuk branch of the Food Distribution Directorate told KirkukNow, “The increase in the food ration includes only those covered by the social welfare network, not everyone, but the ration for the rest will be the same without any increase or decrease.”
The state-subsidized monthly food rations started during the Oil-for-Food Programme which the United Nations UN imposed on Iraq in the 1990’s when the country was under an embargo.
The food basked has been continued after toppling Saddam Hussein regime in 2003 yet there have been many complaints about the quality and quantity of those rations.
On Monday, January 23, 2023, Iraqi Prime Minister Muhammad Shia'a al-Sudani announced the start of the process of distributing additional items in the food ration for those covered by social protection, and said that about five million and 100 thousand people will benefit from the decision.
According to the ration card, every citizen receives seven food items consisting of three kilograms of rice, one kilogram of sugar, a one-liter bottle of cooking oil, 400 grams of tomato paste, a kilogram of beans, in addition to flour.
"Before, everyone was waiting for the food ration to arrive, but the situation has changed now, because people are not satisfied with anything," said Naima Hamad Amin, a resident of the Shorja neighborhood in Kirkuk.
"Most of the women of this generation, including my daughter and daughter-in-law, do not know how to cook, but they complain about the poor quality of rice, oil or flour. I am sure that most of our children do not know what the ration is and where they receive it," Naima says sarcastically.
The distribution of food rations was a relief for the Iraqis during the period of the economic blockade back in the 1990s that was imposed on Iraq at the time due to the repercussions of the Gulf war.
Farida Shafiq lives in the Rahimawa neighborhood. Her husband is a construction worker. She says that her family depends on the food ration, but she complained, "I wish they would improve the quality of rice and increase its quantity, such as tomato paste and tea."
Of the total 42 million Iraqis, nearly 11 million live below the poverty line, which is equivalent to 25% of the population, compared to 20% in 2020 according to the statistics of the Iraqi Ministry of Planning.
Mahmoud Anwar, food agent in Kirkuk, says that citizens do not care about the rations for two main reasons. “Some items are insufficient like beans and sugar while others are of poor quality such as rice and cooking oil.”
"Some people come to me to receive the food ration and then sell it in the nearby shop."
About 50% of the foodstuffs included in the state food basket are unfit for use, and every Iraqi citizen wastes 120 kilograms of food per year, according to statistics of the European Union mission, which were revealed during a conference held in July 2022 in Baghdad on the development of the agricultural sector in Iraq.