Emerging from a long period of sanctions and conflict, Iraq has become more stable in recent years. But the challenges are daunting: civilian casualties from ongoing violence remain high; sharp disparities exist between different governorates regarding access to basic services, particularly between urban and rural areas; and nearly a quarter of all Iraqis live in poverty, with people under the age of 19 facing unemployment rates that are 30 per cent higher than the national average.
Iraq’s population has tripled to over 30 million since 1970. It is expected to reach almost 50 million by 2030, placing further strain on public services and housing. Over 70 per cent of Iraqis live in urban areas, but more than half of those people are estimated to live in slum-like conditions. Although new displacement has abated, more than 1 million Iraqis who fled to neighbouring countries post-2006 have yet to return home and continue to require assistance. Prolonged periods of drought, combined with disrupted maintenance, have taken a heavy toll on the country’s water quality and supply.
The Government of Iraq has taken steps to address these issues, as articulated in its National Development Plan. In response, the UNCT launched a Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) for 2011-2014. Residual humanitarian priorities, particularly the support to refugees and internally displaced people, were integrated into the UNDAF.
Recognizing that the focus in Iraq was steadily, and appropriately, shifting to a development framework, OCHA decided to phase out its operational presence in the country. Its Country Office in Amman closed in March 2011 and a small Humanitarian Support Unit (HSU) was established to assist the RC/HC/DSRSG. The HSU was phased out by August 2011 and responsibilities handed over to the UNAMI Office of Development and Humanitarian Support (ODHS). Of the 24 national field staff employed by OCHA, 12 were successfully transferred to ODHS to ensure a continuation of provincial-level information management and coordination. Every effort was made to leave behind a reliable capacity for responding to ongoing residual humanitarian needs and any that may emerge.
In line with its phase-out plans, OCHA continued to provide substantial staffing and financial support to the Iraq Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit (IAU) for the duration of 2011. This support enabled the IAU and its partners to develop the Iraq Knowledge Network, which is a survey of socio-economic statistics from approximately 29,000 households at the district level in all 18 provinces. The survey results were published with the Government of Iraq in December 2011. They will provide the basis for establishing a socio-economic monitoring system that will inform evidence-based programming at local and national levels.
OCHA will continue to provide limited staffing support to the IAU through June 2012. At that time, barring a significant deterioration in the situation, OCHA’s presence will end. In 2012, the IAU will establish an alternative cost-recovery mechanism to replace OCHA funding to ensure that the Unit continues to respond to UNCT and Government requests. However, support will still be available to the HC from OCHA’s headquarters and regional offices, and humanitarian trends will be closely observed, particularly as developments unfold in the region.