The Central Organization for Statistics and Information Technology (COSIT), a branch of the Iraqi Planning and Development Ministry, conducted a countrywide survey that was released on May 19, 2009 that found 23% of the nation was living in poverty. The poverty line was set at earning $66 per month, or $2.20 a day. The COSIT was expecting a higher rate, but discovered that the government’s food ration system provided a huge relief to many families, which kept them out of the bottom rung of society. Muthanna at 49%, Babil at 41% and Salahaddin at 40% had the highest rates of poverty. The three Kurdish provinces of Dohuk, 10%, Irbil, 3%, and Sulaymaniya, 3%, had the least.
The COSIT findings are similar to other recent reports on impoverishment in Iraq, and lower than previous accounts. The United Nations for example, puts the poverty rate at 22%. In November 2008 the World Food Programme released an analysis of Iraq’s food situation that included a breakdown of wealth across every district in Iraq that also said poverty hit 22% of the Iraqi population. Their report was more detailed and found that 40% of Iraq’s population lived in the two lowest quintiles of wealth in the country. It also showed that within provinces there were deep pockets of poverty that would be overlooked by the aggregate numbers found by the COSIT and U.N. Ibril for example was tied for the province with the lowest poverty rate by COSIT, yet in the Choman district 79-94% of the population lived in the poorest quintile, and in the Soran and Makhmur districts 50-75% of the population were in that lowest group. At the same time, the 2009 estimate is lower than 2007 when Oxfam estimated that 43% of the country was poor.
A Planning Ministry official said that the major causes of poverty in Iraq were unemployment, run down infrastructure, and corruption. A U.N. survey released in February 2009 found that the jobless rate in Iraq was 18% and underemployment 10%, but that among young people 15-29 years of age, it was 28%. When broken down by gender, young men 15-29 years old have a 57% unemployment rate, which was even higher for women. Iraq has also been consistently rated one of the most corrupt countries in the world. The German group Transparency International releases annual reports ranking countries by corruption. In 2003 Iraq was tied for 113 out of 133 with 1 being the least corrupt country in the world and 133 the worst. In 2004 Iraq went down to being tied for 129 out of 146. In 2005 It was tied for 137 out of 159, 2006 tied for 160 out of 163, 2007 178 out of 180. By 2008 Iraq was tied with Myanmar as the second most corrupt country in the world. Iraq’s infrastructure has also suffered through the Iran-Iraq War, the Gulf War, and the U.S. invasion, along with a decade of international sanctions. It was during the U.N. sanctions in 1995 that the country’s food ration system was created under the Oil-For-Food program. While the system is far from perfect, with the Trade Minister recently having to resign for abusing the program, it is one of the major safety nets in the country.
The COSIT survey is just the most recent report to come out of Iraq that gives a clearer picture of the humanitarian situation within the country. During the height of the fighting large parts of Iraq were off limits, even to the government. Now that violence is down, ministry officials, the United Nations, and non-government organizations are able to enter into most parts of the nation to study the plight of the people. What they are finding is that Iraq is still suffering from many economic hardships, but the numbers are not as high as people expected, and there is hope for improvement with greater access to the population.
Aswat al-Iraq, “Iraq among countries with highest levels of corruption – report,” 9/23/08
- “Poverty in Iraq in 2007 at 23% - COSIT,” 5/19/09
Cordesman, Anthony, “Iraq’s Insurgency and Civil Violence,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 8/22/07
Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit, “Iraq Labour Force Analysis 2003-2008,” United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, January 2009
- “Karbala Governorate Profile,” United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, April 2009
IRIN, “IRAQ: Corruption undermining state food aid programme?” 5/19/09
- “IRAQ: Over 20 percent of Iraqis live below the poverty line,” 5/24/09
Reuters, “Iraq Trade Minister Resigns Over Corruption Scandal,” 5/25/09
World Food Programme, “Comprehensive Food Security & Vulnerability Analysis: Iraq,” November 2008