Iraq: Humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate
As the humanitarian crisis inside Iraq intensifies, the need for strong coordination on the ground couldn’t be higher. Since January 2014, a surge in violence between Government forces and armed groups has seen 1.2 million people flee their homes in central and northern Iraq.
Mike McDonagh, the outgoing Head of OCHA’s office in Iraq, talks about the deteriorating situation on the ground and the impact of a recent US$500 million contribution from the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on relief efforts.
Q: What is the humanitarian situation on the ground?
A: There are currently 1.2 million people displaced across 1,400 locations in Iraq, with most staying with host families, or in hotels or rented property. Many are still living in schools, mosques or churches. The vast majority [of them] are in good condition. They arrived in good nutritional status and good health, and have a roof over their heads.
To date, host communities, and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in particular, have done most of the heavy lifting. However, now that we have more funding, we are able to scale up our operations significantly, which will alleviate some of the pressure on host communities and the host Government.
Q: Where exactly is most of the displacement at the moment?
A: There are currently 400,000 displaced people in Anbar, which is where the displacement kicked off in January. Now we have another 200,000 displaced people in Dahuk, 170,000 in Ninewa, 100,000 in Erbil and 80,000 in Sulaymaniyah. There’s also significant displacement in Kirkuk, as well as in some of the disputed border areas.
The big challenge, however, is that they are spread across 1,400 different locations, as there are vast numbers of villages and small towns out there.
Q: Is assistance getting in? What are your biggest challenges in terms of access and why?
A: If you’re talking about the KRG and disputed border areas, yes, assistance is getting in. We have access to 90 per cent of this territory. If, however, you are talking about the areas south of the KRG and north of Baghdad where the conflict is, the answer is more difficult.
There are currently some 5 million people living in these areas under the control of armed groups. However, we are discussing with all parties involved and we feel confident that we will soon be able to reach these people as well. OCHA has the mandate to negotiate with all parties to the conflict, and advocate for access to reach all those in need and for civilians to access aid and services.
Q: What about the situation in Anbar?
A: The situation in Anbar is difficult as there is still active fighting in Fallujah and Ramadi. The first problem that Anbar had was that the initial appeal for the crisis received less than 10 per cent funding.
The second issue was that there were quite a lot of access issues because of the heavy fighting. I’m still quite worried about Anbar due to the lack of commodities going in, but we are working to address this.
Q: Reports suggest population movements are fluid and many people remain on the move. Where are they going and how are they being assisted?
A: You’re right. Many people are on the move and the situation remains fluid. One of the big issues we faced at the beginning of the crisis was assessing people one day only to find the following day that they had moved on. However, I do think the situation has changed.
In the initial days after 9 June [when Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city fell to ISIS], there was massive movement, while on several other occasions there was significant movement after Telafar was lost to ISIS. But I would say the movement has slowed down.
Yes, we have Christians coming out of Mosul heading to Qaragosh, Al Qosh and Bartallah, as well as Turkmen Shiite from Telafar heading south to Najaf and other predominantly Shiite areas. However, the initial massive movement we had earlier has slowed down. I think we’re now more confident of where people are.
Q: And they are being assisted?
A: A lot of the assistance is being provided by host families, host villages and host towns. The UN and its NGO partners have distributed quite a lot of food, water and medical care, but we need to do a lot more. Now that we have more funds we will be able to do just that. However, it takes time to fill the pipeline and to get supplies in.
Down the road, I would expect there will be a lot of commodities to distribute. In the interim, Government efforts to distribute 500 billion dinars (approximately $428 million) in cash assistance to registered IDP families, now ongoing in several governorates, can make a huge difference. Once our commodities come in, we can continue on.
Q: Access to basic services, including water and electricity, in areas controlled by armed groups has been cut in many areas. What is the situation and how are you addressing it?
A: That’s going to be very difficult because many of those areas are outside areas of access. One of the issues we have is armed groups targeting water supplies to various villages in areas along the frontline, such as Hamdaniya and Makhmur.
But we also have difficulties with the Government bombing installations like power stations and hospitals in areas controlled by armed groups. It’s a war on basic services, which in our view is completely unacceptable.
Q: Recently, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia pledged $500 million for the relief effort. Does that mean the needs are completely covered?
A: It means we can scale up our operations significantly. It’s a huge amount. Now we can order vast quantities of food and shelter assistance that we wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
These funds will keep us going until spring. But (beyond that) it will depend on how the situation evolves.