Iraq continues to experience a protracted complex emergency with a number of acute humanitarian needs. Returns remain limited: the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that around five percent of the estimated 2.8 million internally displaced and 2.2 million Iraqis in neighbouring countries have returned. OCHA Iraq has commenced a strategy of gradual re-entry into Iraq as of July 2007 and currently has permanent staff based in Erbil, in the north of Iraq, and Baghdad. OCHA is in the process of recruiting 36 national staff, to be based in all 18 governorates of Iraq by March 2009. This enhanced presence will considerably improve field coordination, aiming to advise partners on humanitarian needs, maximize the use of resources amongst humanitarian partners, promote information exchange and support joint advocacy and emergency preparedness strategies.
Building on improved engagement of and consultation with Iraqi authorities at both the central and local level, OCHA will strengthen its cooperation with partners and donors, NGOs and other actors in the planning and coordination of humanitarian response.
Likewise, the government’s level of institutional and human resource capacity will continue to require support in basic social services sectors. The division of authority between the central government and local authorities, as well as the relationship between the central government and the Kurdistan region will continue to evolve.
In 2009, OCHA will support UNHCR in coordinating humanitarian assistance to Iraqi refugees and returnees, focusing on urgent humanitarian needs of Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, Iran and the Gulf Cooperation Council States (GCC) and assisting Palestinian, Iranian and Turkish refugees in Iraq until their safe, dignified and voluntary return is possible or other durable solutions can be found.
Civilians continue to bear the disproportionate impact of widespread violations of human rights and continuing violence. Although the number of security incidents has declined and civilian casualties have reduced, an average of 33 civilians are killed by violence every day, many of whom are directly targeted by armed groups. Although some international NGOs are beginning to report greater access to areas such as Sadr City, Basra or Mosul, the presence of aid workers remains limited; and humanitarian access is likely to remain restricted throughout 2009. Furthermore, human rights violations, such as gender-based violence, including sexual violence, will remain key challenges amidst an unstable security situation, marked by high levels of impunity. OCHA will work closely with media in the region to improve appreciation of international humanitarian law, the need for unhindered humanitarian access and a safe and secure environment for aid workers, and a better understanding of human rights.
OCHA is carefully monitoring humanitarian access in Iraq through a number of indicators which include, but are not limited to, the number of incidents per governorate; the number of civilian deaths; the number of areas contaminated by unexploded ordnance and landmines; and the number of United Nations missions in Iraq. Such monitoring will allow OCHA and humanitarian actors to understand better the prevailing trends and inform contingency and emergency preparedness planning.
While the government is increasingly asserting its authority and control across the country, the potential for destabilization could arise as a result of the unresolved sectarian grievances and continued disputes on internal boundaries, as well as the distribution of the country’s vast natural oil and gas resources. It is also expected that throughout 2009, Iraq will be exposed to epidemics, particularly cholera, resulting partly from the population’s poor and uneven access to basic social services. OCHA will continue to work with partners to improve preventive measures and strengthen preparedness in humanitarian response by developing government emergency preparedness and response capacity at the central and local levels and through planning for humanitarian contingencies.
Following the severe drought in 2007, agricultural yields of barley and wheat have been reduced by more than 50 per cent. OCHA will work with partners and the Government to strengthen drought mitigation measures and ensure responsible reform of the Public Distribution System to reduce the impact of the drought, rising food inflation and reduced government revenues on vulnerable populations’ food security.