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Iraq: Fending off disaster

03 Jun 2015


Family having just moved in Sheikhan camp, outside of Dohuk - Kurdistan region, Iraq, May 2015. Credit: OCHA/Charlotte Cans.
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The humanitarian community is urgently appealing for $500 million to cover basic life-saving support for the most vulnerable over the next six months in Iraq.

The crisis in Iraq, linked to the take-over of Iraqi territory by the Islamic State (IS) and the counter-insurgency operation launched by the Govern­ment and its allies, is escalating rapidly with more than 8 million people in urgent need of humanitarian aid.  The humanitarian community is urgently appealing for $500 million to cover basic life-saving support for the most vulnerable over the next six months.

As conflict intensifies, aid groups anticipate an additional humanitarian caseload of 1.7 million people before the end of the year. But the funding has not kept up with escalating needs. Without additional funding, over half of all humanitarian operations will be cut back or closed in coming months. This means, for instance, that 56 health programmes will be forced to close, and food assistance from WFP will be ruptured.

Conflict has forced 3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) from all ethnic and religious communities to survive amid increasingly precarious conditions, the vast majority outside of camps.  In addition, hundreds of thousands remain hard-to-reach by aid groups due to ongoing fighting. The IS insurgency has subjected people to mass executions and horrendous violence, includ­ing torture. Children have been used as suicide bombers and human shields, sold at markets, killed by crucifixion and buried alive. Women and girls have been enslaved and subjected to systematic sexual violence.

The view from Ramadi

On 15 May the city of Ramadi in Anbar fell to IS leading 69,000 residents to flee – most of them to Baghdad – and trapping tens of thousands of others inside the town.  This brings the number who have fled Ramadi since April to 180,000.  Many of the families who fled to Baghdad were barred from crossing Bzbiz Bridge into the capital because they could not prove they had a “sponsor” in the city. As a result, hundreds of families were forced to sleep in the desert with no tent for protection.

Abu Jassim, who fled from Ramadi alongside his family told the Iraqi Red Crescent Society he had no idea where they would go if they ever got into Baghdad. “We have been walking for two days straight… We’re looking for shelter as we have lost everything,” he said.

Iraqi NGO, Al Khanjar Foundation, the Norwegian Refugee Council, International Organization for Migration, WFP, WHO and UNHCR, among others, are all responding to the situation in Anbar.

The conflict has dramatically driven up food prices, putting 4.4 million at risk of going hungry.  Meanwhile, close to 6.7 million Iraqis need emergency health assistance and 4.8 million are in critical need of access to clean water and sanitation.

The crisis has impacted all aspects of Iraq’s economy and society, and threatens the years-long efforts to build national reconciliation and protect the country’s impressive development gains. The Iraq Government has provided mass relief in the form of cash grants, health support, education support, shelter and food, but – for the first time in decades – is faced with a massive fiscal gap resulting from the slump in oil prices and the high costs of the counterinsurgency.

Humanitarian partners are com­plementing the support provided by the Government, community groups, religious endowments and the Iraqi people. Working in difficult and dangerous circumstances, with constant access challenges, aid groups have achieved a lot.

They are providing food to two million people each month, have helped build 22 camps for IDPs and refugees, have provided critical health care to millions of people, and vaccinated 5.3 million children against polio. Aid groups have also rehabilitated schools and trained hundreds of teachers in counselling techniques, among other interventions.

Now aid groups are calling for more help in one of the most cut-to-the-bone appeals ever issued for the region– so that they can help assist only the most vulnerable conflict-affected Iraqis. As needs grow daily, scaling back aid now would spell disaster for the Iraqi people.