For months, NGOs and UN agencies operating in different parts of Iraq have been calling upon the international community to refocus attention towards the overwhelming scale of the humanitarian needs that exist inside the country. The Anbar crisis has for more than six months posed an almost unmanageable burden upon the emergency response capacities of aid and relief agencies due to a critical lack in funding that has emanated from a clear down-grading of Iraq from the list of priorities on the international humanitarian agenda. This de-prioritisation must urgently be brought into question as the security crisis in the country has reached a breaking point which, if surpassed, will overwhelm the capability of aid agencies to respond given the burden of financial constraints. In a recent UN Security Council Press release, Member States were encouraged to support the Strategic Response Plan (SRP) that remains just 10 per cent funded, despite being launched over three months ago.
In the first week of June, longstanding concerns from humanitarian actors in Iraq about the potential for the Anbar crisis to expand to other strategic governorates have materialised as the cities of Mosul and Samarra, situated in the neighbouring governorates of Ninewa and Salaheddin respectively, have become the scenes of intense conflict. Armed opposition groups (AOGs) seized control of the entire Western part of Mosul and large areas of the Eastern part of the city. Reportedly, AOGs also took control over the city of Qayyarah, 140km South of Mosul, and the city of Muhallabuya, 70km to the West. They stormed prisons in the city and were able to free hundreds of inmates. In addition to a large influx of citizens from Mosul to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) and Zommar city in North-West Mosul, there are growing concerns from cross-sections of communities in Salaheddin about their own safety and whether they should also flee before being caught up in the expanding conflict.
Accounts vary as to the exact number of casualties from Mosul but according to the local authorities more than 100 individuals have been killed so far in fighting. The UN has projected that the estimated 500,000 people displaced this year in conflict is likely to climb significantly over the coming weeks and months. Growing humanitarian needs will increase the pressure felt by aid agencies who are concerned about the sustainability of the under-funded collective response. Initial estimates from the International Office for Migration (IOM) are that there are already around 500,000 additional displaced individuals as a result of the recent outbreak of fighting in Mosul. One NCCI focal point who himself has fled the conflict in the city described the “mass displacement of citizens from Mosul from both East and West, I am currently on my way to Dohuk and have counted 50 cars in two minutes”. Another NCCI focal point cited thousands of IDPs being stuck at Erbil and Dohuk checkpoints waiting to be able to pass through. Mosques, schools and small surrounding villages on the way to Dohuk are reportedly overcrowded.
Hashim Al-Assaf, Executive Coordinator of the NGO Coordination Committee for Iraq (NCCI) stated that “results of impending assessments in Ninewa and Salaheddin by aid agencies will reveal the extent of needs in the different response sectors but there are sizeable concerns about how already limited resources and stocks can be stretched to meet new needs on the ground”. NCCI field situation reports, released to support coordination efforts on the Anbar response, continue to show significant gaps in basic needs that include food, milk, water, shelter and blankets. Access to conflict areas of Mosul and Samarra also pose a significant concern for aid and relief agencies that are planning their response because movements in these areas are clearly restricted by ongoing fighting and road closures.
Services in the conflict areas are already beginning to suffer as there are prolonged power shortages across Mosul and water shortages that are predominantly affecting those situated in Western parts of the city. Markets and shopping areas are closing in insecure areas close to the fighting and there are reports that at least one ambulance was targeted by shelling. Schools and government offices are also predominantly shut. Curfews have been called in the Eastern half of Mosul city and fleeing IDPs have not been able to take with them much more than a few clothing items and some core essentials. As aid agencies await the results of official figures emanating from needs assessments, the efforts of humanitarian actors to highlight the impact of the devastating developments will continue. One question remains, which is: exactly how desperate does the situation need to become inside Iraq for the humanitarian crisis to receive the international attention that NGOs and the UN agencies have long been calling for?
Written by Benjamin Hargreaves, NCCI Communications Coordinator
On 18th March, a statement was released by a consortium of National Non-Governmental Organisations (NNGOs) who expressed their collective disappointment at the international community for not imparting greater attention to the worst humanitarian situation being faced by Iraq since 2006. The statement shed renewed light on the increasingly challenging situation for aid agencies, who are trying to attend to the urgent needs of the country's Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Indeed despite constrained resources and funding, NGOs and UN agencies continue to work hard to try and ensure the timely and efficient provision of humanitarian assistance for the displaced. Once being looked upon as a temporary downturn amid an already fragmented political and security scene in Iraq, contingency planners are now facing up to the increasing likelihood that this will evolve into a protracted crisis.
Based on official figures released by Iraq's Ministry of Displacement and Migration (MoDM) on 26th March, it can be estimated that around 400,000 people have been displaced as a result of the conflict in Anbar. International NGOs that are playing a key role in the humanitarian response, such as the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), have this month called upon the international community to increase its humanitarian support and for parties in the conflict to ensure secure access for emergency relief staff working to meet the increasing needs of vulnerable populations. The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) has also urged “everyone involved in fighting to spare civilians and allow humanitarian and medical personnel to carry out their duties in safety”. Detailed field information collected by the NGO Coordination Committee for Iraq (NCCI), through its members and networks, has highlighted the trecherous and often impossible conditions that humanitarian workers are faced with then trying to gain access to some of the most vulnerable populations. As a result, IDPs in many cases remain in desperate need of some of the most basic relief items such as water (for drinking and cleaning), food supplies, bedding, clothing and shelter.
Given the sizeable security and financial constraints on the humanitarian effort of aid agencies, it is surprising that more international attention has not been directed towards the unmet needs of those affected by the current situation in Iraq. NGOs have been working with limited resources to attend to the growing needs of IDPs, who have been forced to leave their homes because of the ongoing threat to their safety and security. Perhaps the lack of media attention towards this issue is a reflection of the regional situation, whereby the Syrian refugee crisis remains the focus for relief and donor organisations. However with assessments shifting towards the fact that this is now a protracted humanitarian crisis, NGOs are hoping that this will mean stronger donor support for their activities. Without such a shift, it is now evident that the vital work being carried out on the ground by humanitarian actors will not be able to be sustained in the long-term.
Several NNGOs this month detailed to NCCI their progressive reliance on donations from wealthy local businessmen and the help of community volunteers in order to bridge the gaps now appearing in their resources, so that they can continue distributing food and other basic items. NNGOs operating in Anbar are struggling even more than in other areas of Iraq, since the solutions and procedures deployed were initially developed with the hope that IDPs would be in a position to return to their homes and cities within days or weeks of the initial onset of the crisis in December. There was also an expectation that if it did materialize into a long-term situation then their efforts would quickly be supported from various directions, both locally and internationally. One area of particular concern for these local organisations has been the apparent shortage in planning and subsequent provision of shelter and accommodation, which they believe has not reflected the true scope or needs of responding to the crisis. Perhaps policies pertaining to this issue really have been more politically-driven than humanitarian-focused. Indeed the argument that the crisis is temporary and that IDPs will soon return home seems now quite idealistic. Or perhaps this is a greater reflection upon the continuing requirement for enhanced capacity building with relevant actors in Iraq in relation to emergency preparedness.
There are an increasing number of reports being received by NCCI through emergency coordination meetings and its field network that highlight the deterioration of social structure inside Anbar. Begging and problems relating to homelessness are on the rise, especially among the most vulnerable people such as women, children and the elderly. Unemployment rates have also increased because many IDPs have been forced to leave their jobs behind or cannot regularly access their place of work. New areas resided in by the IDPs are often unable to provide similar opportunities in the face of a rising population. Children are missing out on education because schools have closed and paperwork has been lost of unavailable for submission at their new location. Common theft and burglaries have also increased significantly and according to the joint NNGO statement released in March “criminal acts are driven by psychological factors arising out of the feeling of wanting to take revenge on society, which is considered as a source of responsibility for the conflict”. Militants in control of Fallujah have begun taking policing into their own hands by implementing Sharia law and offering some limited social services, hoping to further their moral support.
With an estimation of more than 90,000 individuals now displaced outside Anbar province and violence spiking in other governorates including Diyala, Baghdad and Salaheddin, perhaps the days of calling this an ‘Anbar’ crisis are numbered. Whilst clearly a depressing thought, it is essential for the international community and media to recognize the expanding and protracted nature of the current situation so that the needs of beneficiaries on the ground can be effectively planned for and met by the humanitarian community. This pessimistic but representative outlook of the current humanitarian situation has been added to recently by the first cases of polio being discovered in Iraq for 14 years. Responding to this situation will once again be made more challenging by limited access in Anbar province (bordering on Syria) and by the continuing displacement of large sections of the population.
Published by NCCI Communications Team, Amman
Iraq now has the second highest number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the Middle East, after Syria, with a total of more than 1.1 million registered IDPs. Most have escaped due to conflict, political strife and forced evictions on sectarian or ethnic grounds.
More than two months of military operations inside Anbar have resulted in thousands of additional Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) that have been forced to leave their homes in search of peace and security. Violence inside the province has even resulted in multi-displacement as many families that had made the difficult decision to leave home, were subsequently confronted by new outbreaks of fighting between militants and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and were forced to once again relocate in search of sanctuary in another area of Anbar. According to NCCI field reports, the scarcity of food supplies and fuel has also been a key factor in leading families to seek better living conditions.
Recent statistics released by the Ministry of Displacement and Migration (MoDM) show that there are now more than 68,333 internally displaced families as a result of the ongoing conflict in Anbar province. The majority of these families (48,243) are displaced inside Anbar and the remaining families (20,068) are now located in other governorates, including large numbers in Salaheddin (8,745), Kirkuk (1,304), Baghdad (3,627) and the Iraqi Kurdistan region (5,331). The estimation that more the 70 per cent of IDPs are still located inside Anbar increases the importance on coordination and information sharing between International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) and the local communities, including local authorities and National Non-Governmental Organisations (NNGOs). This is absolutely necessary in order to assess and prioritise IDP needs and to provide a collaborative, joined-up humanitarian response inside Anbar province.
It is still too early to judge the effectiveness of the challenging aid effort to address the growing needs of more than 400,000 IDPs, who are displaced across a total of 11 different governorates. However when specifically addressing the humanitarian response inside Anbar, it has become apparent that the local communities and organisations are playing an incredibly important role in meeting the needs of locally displaced people. NNGOs are working under increasingly treacherous circumstances in order to carry out assessments and meet the desperate needs of IDPs.
Indeed NNGOs and communities are dealing with huge needs on the ground and are working with an ongoing shortage in funds and overstretched resources. What increases the challenge even more is that the local humanitarian community is now having to contingency plan for a long term, expanding IDP crisis. For them it is incredibly important to take special care of health and education, even prioritizing it over support for shelters, food and non-food items. There have been growing reports from NCCI focal points that displaced children are often being turned away from schools due to incomplete schooling documentation and paperwork, which is something that will have a devastating long-term impact on the future generation of this vulnerable sub-section of Iraqi youth. There are also increased warnings about potential widespread outbreaks of serious illnesses among local IDP populations.
NNGOs possess a number of important benefits for INGOs when dealing with the inside-Anbar response, which need to be exploited more effectively by humanitarian actors. Despite often having to work with contradicting, unconfirmed information from the field and difficult, unsecure access routes, INGOs have a fantastic opportunity to be able to tap into the rich pool of local knowledge and insight of NNGOs to understand the precise needs of the affected IDP population. Most NNGOs have almost exclusively local employees that are able to appreciate important cultural and political factors without facing language or trust barriers to information collection and field research.
Whatever could be said about national and local NGO capacities in Anbar, there have been substantial efforts made by the NGO Coordination Committee for Iraq (NCCI) and other important humanitarian actors in developing their capabilities in order to support local communities and respond to developing humanitarian emergencies. The time seems right for the international humanitarian community to build closer partnerships with these NNGOs to help to leverage their capabilities still further. Stronger local partnerships with NGOs that embrace the core humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality and do-no-harm will help to better assess and meet the collective needs of IDPs in Anbar, and to overcome the ongoing difficulties of sporadic access route changes and a dynamic battleground.
However there are still significant obstacles to reliable partnerships, which are borne out of the fact that the nature of Iraqi civil society substantially differs from the Western-inspired model that is defined by independence from traditional social structures and the state. Iraqi civil society on the other hand relies on the values of solidarity, contacts and social cohesion, rooted in religious and tribal ethics. Full embracement of core international humanitarian principles and actual on-the-ground capacities are still points of concern for humanitarian actors that are seeking local partnerships.
From an NNGO perspective, there are substantial benefits to be gained from the enhanced resources and procedures that would be provided by the establishment of stronger partnerships with INGOs that would increase the effectiveness of their aid effort. A protected space for NGO coordination, being provided by NCCI, will also help to ensure that the activities of NNGOs are not overlapping but are instead based upon detailed, evidence-based needs assessments from reliable and trusted sources of information in the field. Priorities of people inside Anbar are constantly changing and must be kept up with via continuous detailed assessments. Trends analyses suggest that the crisis is now becoming long-term and is expanding. The sooner such partnerships can be strengthened, the faster the collective humanitarian effort can be adapted to meet this increasing IDP challenge.
Published by NCCI Communications Team, Amman