Inadequate Electrical Supply

2Iraq’s electricity demand exceeds the national power production by a quarter, forcing a lot of its inhabitants to rely on private generators. However, most Iraqis cannot afford the cost of sharing a generator with neighboring homes, and thus have to live with less than six hours of intermittent electricity a day. Unreliable and insufficient electricity supply does not only cause hindrance for Iraq’s citizens, it is also detrimental for the country’s economy. Water purification plants and sewage treatment systems have been rendered inoperable periodically since 2003 due to widespread power shortages, which has led to water contamination and shortages in many regions. Power outages also affect irrigation systems, which are currently operating at only a fraction of their full capacity in most governorates.


Water Insecurity

3Data from the World Bank in 2012 indicate that 93% of Iraq’s urban population has access to an improved source of water, but this number drops to a mere 68% for Iraqi’s living in the countryside. While the access to drinking water in the countryside steadily improved since 2005, the percentage of the population having access to water stagnated and even decreased in urban areas. 

Since 2003, the Tigris and Euphrates water levels have steadily receded to a record low. Adding to this, combat damage and a general lack of maintenance have deteriorated the water network infrastructure. Furthermore, the “qanat/karez” - a system of ancient aqueducts which has provided water for many eastern and northern governorates for hundreds of years - has recently collapsed. Dependence on groundwater, particularly for irrigation purposes, has increased considerably. With no governmental oversight or regulations in place for well-digging, this water resource could easily be exhausted within the next few years.


Poor Sanitation /Waste Management

4It is estimated that 80% of discharged sewage is untreated due to frequent power outages that debilitate pumping stations and sewage treatment plants.  This has particularly dire consequences for health, with diarrhea and other preventable illnesses spreading rapidly throughout many affected regions in Iraq.


Higher Rates of Chronic Diseases (Mainly Cancer) and Congenital Birth Defects

5The US and other coalition forces have used White Phosphorous (WP) and Depleted Uranium (DU) weapons in Baghdad, Basra, Falluja, Ramadi, and other densely populated civilian areas.   Exposure to DU is proven to result in dire health consequences, especially in terms of infertility and chronic diseases. Hospitals in these areas are now reporting an alarming increase in babies born with congenital heart disease and major deformities. Furthermore, leukemia and cancer rates have skyrocketed in many major cities. Most hospitals are underequipped—mainly in terms of staff, medicines and equipment—to handle the increasing demand for serious medical treatment.


Collapsed Public Education System

6One in five Iraqis between the ages of 10 and 49 cannot read or write a simple statement related to daily life. While Iraq boasted a record-low illiteracy rate for the Middle East in the 1980s, illiteracy jumped to at least 21% by 2012, with higher numbers of illiteracy among rural Iraqis and women. Attendance and enrolment in public schools have also declined considerably. In 2003, UNESCO estimated that 5,000 new schools were needed and between 6,000 and 7,000 schools needed rehabilitation. After thirteen years of intense combat and natural population increase, these figures are likely much higher.

Following the 2014 IS takeover of large swaths of Iraq, a number of schools and other education related infrastructure is now in militant controlled territory or has been destroyed during the fighting, further exacerbating education woes. The ongoing violence and the fact that a lot of schools are used to house IDPs or refugees also prohibit a lot of children from attending school. Educational possibilities for Iraq’s many IDPs or refugees are limited.


Widows and Other Vulnerable Populations Lack Support

7It was estimated that in 2011 10% or more than one million of Iraq’s women were widows. More than half of Iraq’s widows lost their husbands after the 2003 US-led invasion. At the height of the sectarian violence (2006-2008), an estimated 90 to 100 women were widowed daily. Government protection and social support for widows or divorcees is limited. Many widows are left without jobs, health insurance or social security, forcing them to remarry. Socio-cultural objections to marrying widows or divorcees, combined with a gender imbalance caused by decades of war, often leaves widows no choice but to conclude an illegal polygamous marriage. The legal position of women in an illegal polygamous marriage is however very shaky and leaves the women at the mercy of their husbands.


Refugees/Internally Displaced People (IDPs)

8The 2003 US-led invasion and the following sectarian conflict lead to a large number of internally displaced Iraqis. As of 2014, an estimated number of 1.1 million Iraqis was still living in a situation of protracted displacement. Experts warn that upon return, many refugees may become displaced, unable to resettle in their original communities.

The influx of refugees, fleeing the violence which broke out in neighboring Syria in 2011, presents another humanitarian challenge for Iraq. As of August 2016, an estimated number of 240 000 Syrian refugees is residing in Iraq. The militant takeover of parts of Anbar starting in late 2013 and the following conquest of large swaths of Iraqi territory by IS in June 2014 further exacerbated the already present IDP and refugee crisis. It is estimated that more than 3.3 million Iraqis became internally displaced between January 2014 and September 2016. As daily clashes between IS and Iraqi Security Forces, irregular militias, Peshmerga units and the International Coalition are ongoing, these numbers are not expected to go down soon.

Iraq struggles to cope with these successive waves of IDPs and refugees. The 2014 IS conquests in particular overburdened Iraq’s dwindling capacities, leading to a situation where thousands of IDPs and refugees are lacking the most basic amenities like shelter, food, medical aid and education. At the same time, IDPs and refugees put great stress on host communities.


Increased Soil Salinity/Desertification

9Desertification and salinization, combined with agricultural malpractices, Iraq’s burgeoning population and the rapid expansion of built-up areas, resulted in a significant loss of arable land in Iraq. In 1970, 12.2% of the country’s territory consisted of cultivated lands, a number which dropped to 7.9% in 2012. As fresh water levels decline in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which flow towards the Shatt-Al Arab waterway, salt water from the Persian Gulf has begun filtering back into the rivers at an alarming rate. This phenomenon, combined with improper irrigation practices, lead to a steep increase in soil salinity, causing a significant amount of agricultural land to become unfertile. The destruction and neglect of Iraq’s irrigation and water infrastructure during the past decades of war and sanctions amplified these problems.

Soil salinization and desertification do not only threaten agriculture, but also endanger Iraq’s wildlife and biodiversity. The loss of agricultural land and the jobs connected to it is also one of the main contributors to Iraq’s massive rural flight.


Deteriorating/Unstable Security in Many Regions

10The ongoing violence in Iraq – including bombings, targeted killings, kidnappings, crime related violence and clashes between Iraqi Security Forces and armed militants – endangers NGOs operating in the country. Checkpoints, curfews, and other “heightened security measures” can significantly impede service delivery.  

The presence of IS in Iraq poses another risk to both civilians and humanitarian actors in the country. With many areas turned into battle zones, the delivery of humanitarian assistance can be dangerous or downright impossible. Addressing humanitarian needs in IS controlled territory remains very difficult.

NGOs also have to take extra care to clearly delineate their roles within beneficiary communities, as years of war—with the US-led coalition forces and many insurgent groups posing as “humanitarian actors” in different instances—have blurred the distinction between humanitarian and military organizations for many Iraqis.


Lack of Sustained Funding for NGOs’ Operations

12During the past decade, funding for NGOs operating in Iraq has been unreliable, unpredictable and generally insufficient. According to UNOCHA, the funding provided for humanitarian assistance and rebuilding in Iraq varied between more than 3.4 billion USD in 2003 to less than 50 million USD in 2006. Due to this insufficient and wildly unpredictable amount of donor funding, many local and international NGOs are considering reducing or halting their activities. Following the 2014 crisis the humanitarian funding increased massively, but is still inadequate in light of the magnitude of the current emergency situation. Predictable and sustained funding thus remains a critical concern for all NGOs working to provide humanitarian assistance in Iraq.


Misconceptions about Iraq and Declining International Concern

13There is a widespread misconception that Iraq is a rich petro state, and the Iraqi people therefore no longer need the international community’s support to recover from decades of war and sanctions. Iraq does have the third largest oil reserves in the world, and the potential for it to one day evolve into a prosperous petro state certainly exists. However, oil exploitation is currently stunted by insecurity, corruption, a lack of investment, poor technology, and a number of other factors. Meanwhile, World Bank data indicate that in 2012 an estimated 21% of Iraq’s population was living on less than 2 USD a day.

The 2014 crisis increased international concern about Iraq. However, it should be noted that a lot of this international attention solely focuses on security issues. It also remains to be seen whether the international attention sparked by the current crisis extends to the rebuilding effort of a post-crisis Iraq. Tackling structural socio-economic problems and sustainable developing Iraq definitely needs more than a temporary surge of international concern.