As of the start of October, it was reported by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) that displaced individuals are residing in a total of 435 schools in Anbar governorate, not to mention the educational facilities that are occupied by armed militants. Around two thirds of the (1.6 million) population in Anbar are classified as being in need, which is the highest of any Iraqi province. Despite such catastrophic circumstances, an analytical report released in early October by NCCI/SNAP shows that Anbar has the lowest amount of funding per displaced person of any of the afflicted Iraqi provinces (3 USD per IDP). This is in vast contrast with the funding situation in the first quarter of 2014, when a Strategic Response Plan (SRP) was put together, specifically to address the needs of afflicted populations as a result of the militant takeover of Fallujah and Ramadi.
The most recent version of the same SRP, revised in September, focuses heavily upon displacement figures in the northern Kurdish region and fails to adequately address the situation in the remainder of Iraq. The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) is hosting large numbers of displaced individuals without any financial support from the central Iraqi government, but this could also be said for Anbar and other provinces that are majority-controlled by militants and subsequently have not received their usual cut of the centralised annual budget.
It is logical that the humanitarian focus is placed upon the accessible northern Kurdish regional provinces, since they host the largest percentage (43 percent) of the collective internally-displaced population in Iraq. However the prolonged reprioritisation of the humanitarian response in Anbar, and to some extent other provinces in central and southern Iraq, should have followed a detailed assessment and evaluation of comparative needs with displaced populations in other provinces. Any deprioritisation that has occurred reluctantly or even subconsciously due to challenges concerning constrained humanitarian access and poor security is potentially understandable but certainly disappointing. If true, questions must then be asked to why the humanitarian imperative was not dominant in any such planning and decision making.
There remains an urgent need for an ‘Immediate Response Plan’, inspired by that released by the UN and the KRG to address challenges specifically in the Kurdish region, but which addresses the rest of Iraq. This plan will need to respond to key questions raised in an NCCI Emergency Report in October, centred on how to speed up and scale up the nationwide humanitarian response. More specifically, such planning must lay out how aid agencies can overcome the challenges that have up until now prevented a comprehensive and coordinated aid response from being implemented in conflict zones. Displaced families from these areas inside Anbar are in desperate need of aid but every direction from which they seek to flee appears to be a dead end. The entire province is now almost completely closed off with no clear way of exiting for those fleeing violence. There are also question marks being continually raised about why there remains a critical lack of temporary accommodation in Anbar, with no immediate move towards the development of camps.
Recent events that have taken place in Heet, marked by a significant militant advance into large areas of the district, have resulted in the displacement of an estimated 34,000 people, according to the latest OCHA flash report. Previous reports had indicated significantly higher figures, with as many as 180,000 being displaced. This would constitute around 75 percent of Heet’s population, many of whom had already been displaced multiple times due to the dynamic nature of the conflict inside Anbar. Whatever the correct statistic, the resulting media reports emanating from this grief-stricken province will hopefully suffice in reactivating the collective subconscious and reminding people of the protracted suffering of some of Iraq’s most vulnerable populations that reside in Anbar and other areas far beyond the borders of the northern Kurdish provinces of the country.
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