Two freighters containing 56,500 metric tons of hard red winter wheat grown by farmers in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas have departed Galveston, Texas, for the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr.

The two shipments are enough to feed 4.5 million Iraqis for a month, according to officials with USDA and the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID). They are the first of a series that will provide up to 610,000 metric tons of food worth $300 million to feed the Iraqi people.

The United Nations World Food Program is providing an additional $260 million for food distribution and logistical support in Iraq as U.S. and British troops try to restore order following the collapse of the Iraqi regime.

The wheat was provided through the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust, a U.S. emergency food aid program named for the late congressman from the Missouri Bootheel. USDA has announced the release of 200,000 tons of wheat from the trust with another 400,000 metric tons to be made available as needed.

“When milled, today's shipment of 28,000 tons of hard red winter wheat will provide every man, woman and child in Iraq with almost 1 pound of flour,” said Jim Butler, deputy undersecretary for Farm and Agricultural Services at USDA, speaking at a ceremony in Galveston.

“This shipment is only the beginning,” he said. “Working hand-in-hand with other government agencies, the World Food Program and private voluntary organizations, we will work to make sure the food reaches the people who need it most.”

Although some observers have said the relief effort seemed to be slow in getting under way, USDA and AID officials said the U.S. government is fully prepared to provide humanitarian and reconstruction assistance to the people of Iraq.

“For the last several months, U.S. AID, working in close coordination with the State Department and other U.S. agencies, has planned for a possible humanitarian emergency by pre-positioning stockpiles of emergency supplies and commodities,” said Fred Schieck, deputy administrator of U.S. AID. “We have also been making contingency plans for reconstruction activities.”

Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson said it was gratifying to see the program named for her late husband being used to provide relief to the Iraqis.

“As President Bush has said time and again since Operation Iraqi Freedom began, our goal is to improve the lives of the Iraqi people,” she said. “That involves not only dismantling the regime of Saddam Hussein but bringing food and medicine to places so the Iraqi people can live a normal life and have hope.

“The food aid made available through the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust makes that goal possible and will make a real difference in the lives of those Iraqi people who have been suppressed and starving for far too long.”


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