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Iraq: "We are faced with a grim funding reality"

06 Jun 2015


Lise Grande, Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, visiting Baharka IDP camp for displaced Iraqis on the outskirts of Erbil, northern Iraq, 31 May 2015. The visit included a clinic which is qt risk of closing if the appeal launched in Brussels on 4 June 2015 does not succeed.
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In this interview, Lise Grande, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, discusses how donors and aid groups can rise to the humanitarian challenge facing the country.

As conflict in Iraq escalates, the number of people in need of life-saving assistance over the past year has increased by 400 per cent. More than 8 million people across the country are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, including some 3 million people who are internally displaced. With the conflict intensifying, partners estimate that 1.7 million more people may need life-saving assistance before the end of 2015.

As the Humanitarian Response Plan was launched on 4th June, OCHA spoke to Lise Grande, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, to discuss how donors and aid groups can rise to the humanitarian challenge facing the country.

What are the main humanitarian priorities for Iraq?

The Humanitarian Country Team has prioritized four things:

Protection - above all, the crisis in Iraq is a protection crisis. Helping to protect the most vulnerable people is one of our highest priorities. Providing life-saving services to millions of people is the second challenge: 6.7 million people in Iraq need access to essential health services. Half of all displaced families need urgent shelter support; 700,000 are surviving in unfinished and abandoned buildings, makeshift collection centres and spontaneous settlements. The Iraqi people have been incredibly generous, opening their homes and sharing their resources but social tensions are starting to rise, destitution is starting to spread, competition over jobs is increasing and the price of basic commodities is outstripping the resources families have to purchase them. Food insecurity is a key challenge – it has increased dramatically over the past six months, and 4.4 million people now require food aid. And finally, with almost 3 million children out of school, emergency education is a priority. A generation of children is at enormous risk, potentially fuelling tensions and violence for decades. 

Why did you launch a new Humanitarian Response Plan mid-year? 

The crisis has impacted every single one of Iraq's 18 provinces. The number of people needing help is growing--in some locations exponentially. In May in the days after Ramadi was attacked and then fell, more than 200,000 people fled the city in terror, desperately seeking safety in neighbouring communities. Families who were barely surviving last fall and winter have run out of savings and are increasingly vulnerable - forced into doing things to cope and survive that are deeply worrying. Key agricultural areas, including large parts of Iraq's cereal belt, remain under the control of the Islamic State. Water and sanitation systems are falling apart, increasing the risk of major public health emergencies, particularly this summer.

Donors have been very generous in Iraq - and throughout the world - but there are enormous pressures on humanitarian budgets. We realize this, although the implications are hard to bear. All of the partners on the ground know that the crisis in Iraq is not receiving the attention it deserves. Humanitarian partners in Iraq have put together an appeal that includes only the bare, literally the bare, minimum requirements for each cluster. There is no flesh on this USD$500 million appeal.

As the Humanitarian Country Team says, this is not the appeal that we would have wished to launch. As humanitarians, committed to upholding humanitarian principles, we would have liked to ask for funding to ensure that support packages in each cluster reach international standards. Because we are faced with a grim funding reality, we are asking only for minimum emergency packages.

If funding is not urgently secured, more than half of all humanitarian programmes are likely to close or be curtailed in the coming weeks and months. One of the world’s most severe emergencies is on the verge of collapse because of a lack of funding. The implications of this for Iraq, the region, and beyond, are enormous.

In Iraq, allegations of international humanitarian law violations are widespread, with all parties to the conflict implicated. What steps can be taken to ensure IHL is given more respect by all parties to the conflict?

Protection is at the centre of the Iraqi operation. It is arguably the most important thing we do. Iraqis are the victims of some of the most horrible violence anywhere in the world. Women are enslaved and abused. Children are used as human shields and suicide bombers and are crucified. Populations are subjected to mass executions, torture and systematic rape. An estimated 2.3 million people are living in ISIL-controlled areas, subjected to conditions which have been condemned throughout the world.

Partners are committed to doing everything they can to support the victims of violence and abuse and help prevent violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. This means supporting front-line community organizations that are helping the victims of violence; it means reaching out to political and religious leaders, seeking their commitment and asking them to use their influence to stop violations and hold the perpetrators accountable. It means working through institutions to promote rule of law and respect for human rights and it means engaging with combatants, educating them on their responsibilities and obligations.

Partners provide immediate assistance to people as soon as we gain access to them, regardless of their background, ethnicity or religion. We give special attention to the protection needs of the most vulnerable, including women, girls, boys, the elderly, disabled, and survivors of torture and sexual violence in conflict. A network of protection and gender-based violence experts is in place, actively helping to ensure that all of the assistance we provide is gender-sensitive and appropriate.

One of the most important things we do is to support frontline organizations, many of them comprised of women, which are able to reach out and support the victims of violence. Humanitarian partners are contributing to protection by providing assistance to victims, documenting trends and cases, working to prevent recruitment of children by armed groups and negotiating the release of children who have already been recruited. In the longer term, extending the rule of law, reshaping institutions and building social cohesion are key.

To what extent is the Government of Iraq able to cope with the crisis?

Iraq is in a terrible predicament. The Government has lost 40 percent of its budget this year because of plummeting oil prices. It is also struggling to finance costly offensives against IS. Despite these constraints, the Government has carried the burden, providing mass relief to displaced persons in the form of cash grants, shelter, health support, education support and food. The Kurdistan Regional Government has welcomed nearly a million displaced persons, providing shelter and basic services and welcoming them into their communities. In normal times, the Iraqi Government would be in a position to cover the costs of the humanitarian operation--but these are not normal times and the Government needs international assistance.

On 30 June 2014, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) announced a US$500 million contribution to the UN to scale up operations in Iraq. How did that help? And what did we do with the funds?

Without the KSA donation, the [humanitarian] operation would never have been able to scale up. Because Saudi Arabia stepped forward and had confidence in the UN, 200 organizations have been able to provide an average of 2.5 million people with assistance each month; over 2 million people have been receiving food assistance. In the past months, nearly 2 million displaced people have received emergency kits within 48 hours of their displacement including food, drinking water, hygiene supplies and emergency relief items. Nearly 400,000 have received help with shelter; scores of organizations are providing protection; and temporary schools have been erected. It's very hard to think what would have happened in Iraq without this contribution.