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Nearly 500,000 fewer Iraqi children suffering from malnutrition, UNICEF says

Nearly 500,000 fewer Iraqi children suffering from malnutrition, UNICEF says

Nearly half a million fewer youngsters are suffering from general malnutrition as child hunger rates in the southern and central parts of Iraq have fallen to their lowest levels since peaking in 1996, according to a new survey released today by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

The report says malnutrition rates fell to 4 per cent this year, down from a high of 11 per cent in 1996, translating into an estimated 480,000 fewer Iraqi children going hungry each day, UNICEF said.

The new data comes from a UNICEF-supported household survey of malnutrition among children under five that was conducted by the Iraqi Ministry of Health and the Central Statistical Organization last February.

The survey also shows that the number of children who are underweight fell, from a 1996 high of 23 per cent to 9 per cent this year.

According to UNICEF, the improvements were due to the continuing expenditure by Iraq of the majority of oil-for-food money on food, the UN's lifting of a cap on oil sales, nutrition screening and two good years of rainfall and bumper crops.

"Despite improvements there are still close to one million children under the age of five suffering from chronic malnutrition in Iraq today - that's nearly a quarter of all children of that age," said Carel de Rooy, the head of UNICEF in Iraq.

The monthly government food ration received by virtually the entire Iraqi population has made the greatest impact in reducing child malnutrition, according to UNICEF. Under the UN oil-for-food programme, the Iraqi Government is permitted to sell a limited amount of oil within the framework of UN sanctions in order to purchase food, medicine, and other essential supplies.

The programme budget is allocated by the Government, which spends more than $1.25 billion on food every six months. The food ration distribution is among the largest of its kind in the world, UNICEF said.

In 1991 the food ration per person in Iraq amounted to just 1,090 calories each day. A result of the increased revenue from the UN humanitarian programme had raised the daily ration to 2,215 calories per day in 2002.