The humanitarian context in Iraq continued to evolve in 2019. Programming maintained its pivot from providing emergency aid during armed conflict to addressing the needs of millions of IDPs, returnees and other vulnerable Iraqis living in areas impacted by the military operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). There are approximately 1.4 million IDPs in Iraq, out of 6 million persons displaced during the height of the conflict; more than 4.5 million people have returned to their communities, but return rates slowed significantly during 2019. Of those who remain in displacement, over half have been displaced for more than four years. Both the government and United Nations are committed to closing and consolidating IDP camps and settlements which no longer host large populations or meet minimum standards of care, but the safety and dignity of IDPs must remain at the forefront of all planning.
In 2020, transitioning IDPs towards durable solutions remains at the top of the United Nations’ priorities in Iraq. But the ability for humanitarian actors to effectively operate is increasingly constricted, as political unrest, government gridlock, and the impact of COVID-19 makes the work of humanitarians more difficult than ever. Accessing people in need has become more challenging than at any other time since combat operations against ISIL.
Although efforts are underway to rebuild the country and jumpstart local economies, significant barriers to return endure, including security concerns; lack of social cohesion; issues related to documentation; lack of livelihoods and services; unexploded ordinance and destroyed or damaged housing. With protracted displacement expected to endure in the coming years, addressing the protection concerns of Iraq’s IDPs will remain a primary focus for humanitarians. The protection needs of the IDP population are diverse: IDPs cite the lack of employment/livelihood opportunities among their top concerns, along with irregular access to food, health, shelter and education. For IDPs living outside of traditional camp settings, all of these uncertainties are multiplied. Special attention is needed for families with perceived affiliations to extremist groups, who are often subjected to discrimination in camps and stigma from their communities.
Other challenges are also present, including protracted political deadlock and the delayed implementation of recovery and resilience activities. In parallel, Iraq is prone to a daunting set of environmental challenges and natural hazards. Humanitarians must undertake collective preparedness and contingency planning to meet identifiable risks which could impact the realization of their mandate.