Middle East

Iraq: UN fears hunger in besieged Iraqi city of Falluja

An Iraqi man inspects the rubble of a house destroyed in an apparent airstrike carried out by the Iraqi army on Falluja (08 March 2016) Image copyright EPA
Image caption Food prices for for civilians in Falluja are spiralling out of control, both the UN and Human Rights Watch have warned

Food shortages faced by 60,000 civilians in the besieged Iraqi city of Falluja are extremely worrying and are likely to get worse, the UN has warned.

The World Food Programme says that food prices remain too high, while stocks are dwindling in shops and homes.

Government forces trying to recapture the city from so-called Islamic State (IS) militants have cut supply routes, and IS is stopping people from leaving.

Falluja is one of two remaining IS strongholds in Iraq.

On Thursday the Human Rights Watch campaign group said that residents in the city were starving, with what little food available being sold at exorbitant prices, forcing some to eat food from grass.

The WFP report presents a similar picture to that of HRW.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Conditions for civilians in parts of Iraq are becomingly increasingly tough
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Iraqi forces battling IS in Falluja are limiting supplies, the HRW report said

"As the siege continued in Falluja for the third consecutive month, no sign of improvement was recorded in March," a WFP report says.

"In March, the price of wheat was six times more expensive than in December."

Furthermore, shops and markets have run out of food supplies including wheat, sugar, rice, vegetable oil and lentils, says the report, that was conducted by a mobile phone survey last month.

Reaching respondents has become increasingly hard because of poor mobile phone signals in the city and the fear of reprisals.

"Aid has not reached Falluja since the government recaptured nearby Ramadi in December 2015, with supply routes cut off by Iraqi forces and the armed groups preventing civilians from leaving," the report says.

The HRW report last week said desperate residents were using ground date seeds to make flour for bread.

One report in Vox.com says that a 110lb (50kg) bag of flour, which costs about $7.50 in the US, has been sold for as much as $4,166 (£2,925; €3,650).

It quotes sources as saying that residents in the city have to endure both "vicious IS rule and a constant fear of being killed by shells launched into the city by Iraqi military forces".