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ROME, April 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - More than half of Iraqi families are at risk of going hungry, a U.N. agency said on Monday, warning of "unprecedented levels of vulnerability" faced by the population due to years of conflict.
Most families in the country will no longer be able to feed themselves if basic food prices increase or fighting escalates, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).
"They can't absorb any more shocks," said WFP spokeswoman Dina El-Kassaby.
Conflict and instability have stifled food production in Iraq, according to the United Nations. Farmers face shortages of seeds and fertilizers and many have been forced to abandon their land or sell their animals.
A study by WFP and the Iraqi government found that 2.5 percent of the population, or more than 800,000 people, are going to bed hungry every night.
There are concerns this figure could increase, as two thirds of internally displaced people and more than half of Iraqis living in their homes have barely enough to feed themselves, said El-Kassaby.
Almost 75 percent of Iraqi children under the age of 15 are working to help their families put food on the table instead of going to school, WFP said.
"Anything that changes the status quo of those families that are on the verge of food insecurity would push them over the edge," El-Kassaby told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
The study, which El-Kassaby said was the most comprehensive on food needs ever conducted in Iraq, was based on surveys of more than 20,000 families in urban and rural areas across the country.
It was carried out before the launch of a U.S.-backed campaign to dislodge Islamic State from the northern city of Mosul and didn't capture the situation of those fleeing fighting there, WFP said.
More than 300,000 people have fled Mosul since the start of the offensive began in October last year, according to the office of the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq. (Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Ros Russell.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)