Iraq’s Universal Public Distribution System: Utilization and Impacts During Displacement

Lokendra Phadera, Dhiraj Sharma, and Matthew Wai-Poi

World Bank Policy Research Working Paper Series, WPS 9155 (2020)


This paper examines whether Iraq’s Public Distribution System, a universal food subsidy program, has mitigated the welfare loss of forcibly displaced households following the most recent wave of violence and displacement in 2014. The analysis is based on data from the 2017-18 Rapid Welfare Monitoring Survey (SWIFT).

Main findings:

  • Displaced households fare poorly across all measures of welfare compared to non-displaced households. IDPs have lower daily calorie intake, are more likely to face hunger, and are 18 percentage points more likely to be poor (relative to the poverty rate of 15 percent for the non-displaced). Displaced households that are not poor are 17 percentage points more likely to fall below the poverty line, compared to non-displaced households. Displaced households report that their current living conditions are far worse than before January 2014, the onset of the latest wave of displacement.
  • The PDS program alone is not sufficient to alter an IDP’s overall economic outlook. There is no statistical association between an IDP’s subjective perception of their overall economic situation and having access to the ration program. This suggests that forced displacement distresses one’s economic condition to such an extent that the food ration program compensates some of the welfare loss and reduces vulnerability, but is unable to reinstate IDPs to their previous level of wellbeing.
  • Access to PDS plays an important role in mitigating welfare loss. Compared to displaced households that have lost access to PDS, displaced households that continue to receive PDS benefits have: higher food and non-food expenditures, and consequently are less likely to be poor; significantly lower vulnerability to poverty; and higher calorie intake and therefore more food secure. Although they have a greater total calorie intake, PDS beneficiaries consume significantly fewer calories from non-ration food than displaced non-beneficiaries. This suggests that the constant supply of ration food may ease the strain of fulfilling households’ calorie requirements, freeing up resources that can be diverted to other needs.


The authors conclude that the PDS program is significant in fulfilling households’ basic calorie and food requirements even during crisis for both displaced and non-displaced households. However, access to PDS remains elusive for many displaced Iraqis. 14 percent of displaced households did not receive a ration of any kind even once in the 12 months preceding the survey. Even those IDPs receiving some PDS benefits do not receive the full benefits that they are entitled to.