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
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
The number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Iraq continues to pose a significant humanitarian challenge for Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and Iraqi authorities. An estimated 1.8 million Iraqis were displaced as a result of the 2006-2008 widespread sectarian violence and there have been consistent warning signs over the past year that the country is on the verge of returning to some of its darkest days of internal conflict. With such conflict come new waves of IDPs that join the existing victims of sectarian violence to form one of the most vulnerable populations of people inside Iraq. Between April and December 2013 more than 1000 families were displaced, mainly in Baghdad, Diyala, Ninewa and Basra, due to increased security threats. The fear of violence and a deteriorating security situation also sadly prevent existing IDPs from returning home. In 2013 the UN estimated the number of IDPs in Iraq to be approximately 1.13 million.
Prior to the worrying destabilization of Anbar province this month, the United Nations (UN) had already expressed clear concerns that Iraq was facing a new crisis regarding an increasing number of IDPs and deteriorating living conditions for this vulnerable section of Iraqi society. Since the outbreak of sporadic conflict in and around Fallujah and Ramadi and the emergence of impending large-scale Iraqi security force offensives in these cities, thousands of families have made the difficult decision to abandon their homes in fear of their own safety. NGOs, UN agencies and the International Organization of Migration (IOM) have released estimates that vary greatly but indicate that a total of more than 100,000 people (22,000 families) have been displaced from and within Anbar since the start of the violence. The vast majority of displacement has been from families living in Fallujah.
The situation in Fallujah and Ramadi is developing rapidly and field situation reports published by the NGO Coordination Committee for Iraq (NCCI) have confirmed that the main reason for families leaving their homes has been the deteriorating security situation. For a few weeks families were facing difficulties in obtaining food and fuel but most decided not to leave. However as the threat of violence and head-on conflict have increased the difficult decision to leave has been taken out of their hands. The associated strain on local hospitals also appears to have been intensifying as the frequency of casualties requiring urgent medical treatment continues to provide a significant burden upon available resources. More than 71 civilians have been killed and 319 injured as a result of the conflict in Anbar, according to UN statistics.
NCCI field situation reports have shown that displaced families have been seeking refuge in local schools, old housing and storage places that are strongly unsuitable for residence over a sustained period of time. These families have been in great need of items such as blankets, mattresses, cooking appliances and food items. The availability and pricing of food items and fuel have been significantly affected by the ongoing violence. Rental of local housing has also escalated to about four times the original cost in some locations, which has greatly hindered displaced families looking to somewhere to lodge. Other displaced families have been luckier in that they have been hosted by family relatives.
The humanitarian response up until now for displaced families in Anbar has faced significant constraints that have arisen due to the complexity of the conflict. Checkpoints have been closed by security forces for long periods and other roads and accesses have fallen under the control of militants. Fields workers for local community groups, religious groups and NGOs such as the Iraqi Red Crescent have been bravely operating under treacherous conditions in order to distribute relief supplies, which up until now have been received from very limited resources. The conflict is dynamic and has been evolving at a pace that is difficult to keep up with when planning comprehensive relief efforts. Access routes that are open one day may quickly become blocked as the violence becomes scattered in an increasingly desperate battle for territorial control. Limited access to areas has also been a sizeable obstacle to carrying out detailed needs assessments for the IDPs in Anbar.
Whilst the majority of displaced families still remain in Anbar, a large number have also been displaced to other regions in Iraq. This presents a wider challenge for the humanitarian response effort. According to NCCI’s field network there are around 15,000 IDPs in Iraqi Kurdistan (Erbil, Sulaymaniya and Dohuk) that have been displaced from Fallujah and Ramadi, in addition to the significant number of IDPs that are now located in the Iraqi regions of Salah-al-Din, Kerbala, Najaf, and Baghdad. Displaced families in Iraqi Kurdistan may feel relieved that they have found their way to this relative safe haven but will quickly find themselves staring in the face of new challenges. Families are beginning to complain about high prices for the rental housing and the difficulty of obtaining residency, which is now being renewed on a weekly basis at the discretion of local security forces. The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) is currently working alongside aid agencies to set up a temporary camp for the IDPs arriving from Anbar.
It appears that in the current whirlwind of political and security instability we should expect more and more families to be forced to make difficult choices about whether to leave home and search for relative peace and stability in a different region of Iraq. Providing assistance for the displaced remains one of the lasting challenges for the humanitarian community working in Iraq. NGOs and UN agencies intensify their activities under difficult constraints in Anbar province with no end in sight to the violence. Only when stability improves and access enables aid agencies to carry out more detailed assessments will the extent of the humanitarian crisis emanating from Anbar truly be realized. If this stability is maintained then families will be able to return to their homes and schools can reopen. Any growing pressure on health services in areas hosting a large number of IDPs will also be somewhat relieved. However the Director of Health in Anbar has been working hard to quickly fill any gaps that appear due to an increased population in any area hosting IDPs. In terms of infrastructure damage as a result of the ongoing conflict, significant reparation costs are being projected and houses belonging to local families have been in some cases seriously damaged.
Written by Benjamin Hargreaves, NCCI Communications Team, Jordan
After a month of interviews highlighting many years of challenges, successes, and future prospects of NCCI, a final reflection on Iraq’s current situation and NCCI’s vision for future humanitarian work will hopefully serve to contextualize the purpose of many questions and answers. While it has been 10 years since the invasion of Iraq and the launch of the international humanitarian and developmental aid work in the country, it can be argued that little progress or stability has been witnessed in Iraq. It is without a doubt that most, if not all, gaps in Iraq are linked either directly or indirectly to the challenging political climate and the absence of a strong collective voice to represent the Iraqi community as a unified entity based on Iraqi national bond.
A simple yet revealing indicator of impact of the conflict in Iraq is that the average life expectancy at birth today is 58 years, which decreased from 65 years recorded in the 1980’s, and ten years less than the average for the region (67.5 years) and the world (68 years). The distribution of the Iraqi population is also another indicator of the impact of the conflict, as there are around 1.5 million IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) in Iraq and almost twice that number living as refugees outside Iraq, according to UNHCR.
Iraq was once among the most diversified economies of the region, but today its high dependence on oil revenues has become a problem. This high dependency on oil is having an adverse effect as few/limited employment opportunities are generated, and fluctuations in oil prices and revenues invoke political tension, which in turn fuels disagreement over the ownership and division of revenue sources. 60% of Iraq’s GDP is generated from oil, and it accounts for 99% of exports and over 90% of the government’s revenue.
However, more than infrastructure, services and general economics, Iraq needs peace and reconciliation to exist among its own sons and daughters, without the influence of external powers that are not always aligned with the country’s best interests. This type of national healing can be only built internally by the country’s diverse communities, and if it is achieved then the possibilities for this exhausted country can truly be limitless.
NCCI is an organization that is dedicated to strengthening the coordination of aid and information sharing in Iraq, and many of its efforts are concentrated on strengthening Iraqi NGOs and CSOs to become more active and relevant to the building and healing process in the country. While the lack of mechanisms for effective participation hinders the ability of citizens to claim their full rights, it must be said that despite the national and regional tensions, the civil society community has been growing in size and effectiveness over the past ten years. In the years following the invasion and the civil war, the relationship between the population and authorities is becoming more cooperative and mutually accountable. Furthermore, local NGOs are beginning to play a larger role in Iraq’s development and civil society coordination. NCCI believes that this type of social development and integration is an essential factor for moving forward, and will therefore continue working to support the Iraqi civil society so that in the next ten years it can be said that it was not the politicians, the economists or the foreign countries that turned Iraq around, but instead it was the emerging sense of social responsibility and leadership of the Iraqi community that actually saved Iraq. As this change occurs, NCCI’s future role may take various forms in coordination or advocacy. However, this will be determined by the needs of the Iraqi community as a whole.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis live in ‘Informal Housing,’ the residential settlements in violation of city planning and official property rights, popularly referred to as ‘slums.’ Informal settlements suffer from sub-standard housing. In addition they are deprived of a wide range of services tied to legal residency: schooling, sewage disposal, electricity, water. The problem of informal housing overlaps with the greater housing crisis in Iraq. The latter represents a looming deficit of approximately 1.5 million housing units in Iraq and rising. It also overlaps with the question of IDPs, but is in no way synonymous with either. Clearing up a number of persistent myths about the reasons for the migration of informal settlers (for example, acknowledging the prioritization of job-seeking over house-seeking) and obstacles to building appropriate legal housing (such as zoning of unused land rather than lack of land), is a critical first step to the creation of durable solutions.
Myth 1: There Isn’t Enough Land
Reality: Zoning is a Key Block
Land supply is central to any discussion of either the question of informal housing, and/or the housing shortage in Iraq. It is often said that there simply is not enough land to allow for the building of sufficient quantities of new housing. In fact, in both urban and rural areas of Iraq there are considerable amounts of land that lie unused. The employ of this land for housing is often blocked not by the population density or high prices, but rather by zoning.
In rural areas sometimes more land is zoned for agriculture than water can make arable. In urban areas, vast quantities are zoned as army and government property but not used for any purpose. Given this fact, it should not be surprising that the overwhelming majority of informal housing in urban areas of Iraq takes place on unused government property. For example, in Baghdad, the city-province accounting for 1/3 of all informal housing in Iraq (125 of 380 settlements or some 483,148 persons), 53% of the land upon which informal housing is built belongs to the Ministry of Finance, 26% to the Ministry of Defense, 7% to the Baghdad Municipality, 4% to the Ministry of Labor and Society Affairs, and 2% respectively to each of the Ministries of Agriculture, Transportation, and Education.
Myth 2: Persons Living in Informal Housing are Largely IDPs
Reality: Often Settlers are Job Seekers
Informal Housing is by no means synonymous with the question of IDPs, (‘internally displaced persons’ i.e. persons forcibly obliged to flee their places of origin within a country). After 2003, the weak rule of law facilitated rural-urban migration and internal displacement to informal occupation of land. Especially since the abatement of the civil war however, economic migration has overwhelmingly taken precedence. Door to door surveys of populations living in the informal housing confirms this. Door-to-door surveys of informal housing settlements of the province home to nearly 1/3 of all informal housing in Iraq, show that only around 5-10% of the populations of informal housing are actually IDPs. The requirements and priorities of the two populations differ considerably making generalization dangerous.
Myth 3: Housing is the First Priority of Persons Deciding to Move to Informal Settlements
Reality: Jobs are Usually Settlers’ First Priority
Employment, not housing, is the first priority of most informal settlers. After employment follows services. This goes a long way to explaining why, despite the fact that much of informal housing is sub-standard, and the vast majority totally unlinked from government services such as water, sewage and schools, surveys suggest that 68% of informal settlers across Iraq and 80% in Baghdad, say they do not want to be returned to their places of origin.
How informal settlers prioritize their own needs has important consequences on what solutions may actually work. Status quo proposed solutions are founded on the principle of forced eviction, more recently eviction accompanied by compensation with land in informal settlers’ provinces of origin. Such proposals work on the logic that housing is the primary need and desire of the informal settlers. However as the examples of such plans in other parts of the Middle East and the world have indicated, when the primary need of settlers is employment rather than housing, then the informal settlers tend to leave their new housing plots, and return to where the work is (their previous location/city of informal settlement) after eviction therefrom. Thus the process of eviction, even when accompanied by land compensation in a province of origin, may merely serves to create more informal settlements in the same or nearby areas rather than a durable solution.
Myth 4: The Cheapest and Easiest Solution is Eviction
Reality: Eviction is Extremely Costly, if not Logistically Improbable
The status quo view of many concerned politicians, such as the current Minister of Housing, is that mandatory eviction is the only genuine solution. They say that the involvement of residents in discussions of the conditions of their housing or any concessions thereto (providing services, or formalizing informal settlements) will only encourage further violations of the law. Given their view that concessions and discussion with residents encourages further violation, they consequently link concessions and discussion with the extension of the problem.
A number of experts in the field and some other members of government working closely with informal housing populations see eviction not only as a reprehensible way of dealing with some of the weakest layers of society, given economic and social desire to stay as revealed by surveys, but also as so logistically problematic as to be a moot point. On the logistical level, the eviction of tens of thousands of persons from a single settlement is no small task. They point out that the political and physical ability of such settlers to resist eviction should not be underestimated. In the words of one legal advisor working on the question in Mosul, “after a simple calculation of the logistics of evicting the residents from the various informal settlements in the city in question, the local police chief estimated that such an eviction would require the devotion of the manpower of his entire force for a period of years to complete, a clearly impossible prospect.” This is one reason why not one of the three Iraqi laws passed since 2003 on informal housing, all of which mandate the eviction of violators, has practically been implemented.
Myth 5: The Government Alone Can Fill the Housing Deficit
Reality: Incentives to Move the Private Sector to Do More are Needed
Traditionally housing in Iraq has often been delivered via a centralized process, in some cases it had been directed to the people or groups that the previous regime wanted to favor. Today the housing unit deficit is such that that the state does not have the capacity to deliver housing to meet the scale of Iraq’s needs. There is already a deficit of approximately 1.5 million housing units in Iraq. Accounting for population growth in the next 5 years, this is predicted to increase to a need for 2 million houses in Iraq. Yet reconstruction Minister Mohammed al-Daraji recently said that there is only enough in the public budget to build 3,000 annually. Therefore a clear strategy which also includes facilitation of private sector work is required.
Solutions: Traditional and Alternative
There is no single comprehensive solution for all informal housing settlements in Iraq. However taking into consideration the above points on the nature of and reason for the settlements can help point out the strengths and weaknesses of some proposed solutions.
Eviction with Compensation
The above-noted decisions taken by the Iraqi Parliament on Informal Housing (No. 154 of 2011, No. 440 of 2008, and No. 157 of 2009), seek to make forcible eviction more equitable by mandating compensation in the form of land plots in the evicted settlers’ provinces of origin. However the main reason people move to the slums is not for the purposes of finding housing, but rather for the purposes of economic opportunity or security. This is why most, do not actually want to return to their places of origin. Therefore some experts and members of government closely working with informal settler groups have noted that this policy is more likely to encourage the resale of compensation land (located in the job-less area from whence the settler originally fled), return to and recreation of the slums again in a new area of the same city from which the settler was evicted.This is particularly true if eviction is done without consultation with the residents of the informal settlements.
Upgrading rather than Uprooting
In a number of international development circles there has been much excitement surrounding the concept of “Upgrading” rather than “Uprooting” of informal settlements as an alternative to the tradition eviction/eviction with compensation formula. The example of the upgrading of East Wahdat in neighboring Jordan, which won a number of international awards, among them the prestigious Agha Khan Award for socially conscious architecture, is one example. The East Wahdat settlement began as a camp receiving Palestinian refugees and quickly developed into slum style semi-permanent housing with no connection to government services. Once the government took the political decision to allow for a change in status of the settlement to a more permanent one, it provided deeds for the land upon which settlers had previously been living in an illegal manner. The government also agreed to provide services (a basic clinic and school). Inhabitants agreed to participate strongly in the financing over a period of time of the upgrade of their own houses. Moreover upgrading of housing units was done one by one, with the inhabitants staying in a corner of their previous plot while building went on, negating the need for a large, or indeed any, temporary re-housing while upgrading was undertaken.
Promoting upgrading, Prof. Hong of MIT University has indicated solutions to land rights problems don’t need to be seen as a zero-sum game between owners and violators/informal settlers. Even where property owners are private individuals, building up may provide solutions with reconfiguration of land use to make part residential, and part commercial.
Opponents of such plans fear encouraging more violations. In some cases, like the Zahraa informal settlement in Kut, the number of informal settlers families increased when the local government decided to compensate them with a piece of land in the same governorate, although proponents claim this is the exception, not the rule. An equally or more valid question is the vast amount of effort required to negotiate such land reallocation settlement by settlement. Likewise clearly not all informal settlements (for example those not zoned for residential building for safety reasons) can be upgraded. Others have indicated that in Iraq many would oppose “building up” on the basis of cultural preference for low-rise residential housing.
Incentives to the Private Housing Sector: Zoning, Expandable Homes and Loans
To encourage the private sector to take a more vigorous role, incentives might include, but are not limited to encouraging more housing loans, as now they are extremely difficult to acquire. Secondly, where housing is heavily subsidized it can be given in the form of a unit with room for privately financed expansion over time. This encourages buy-in by the new owners, and decreases upfront cost to the government. Finally the authorities can work on changing of zoning laws to allow greater access to develop property in desirable areas. The fact that such a high quantity of informal settlement in Iraq takes place on government property is seen by some as a positive factor. In theory, this should make reaching a compromise solution easier, since it would not be the government negotiating with a private investor and informal settlers, but rather directly with the informal settlers themselves. Even where government property cannot be ‘sold’ for legal reasons, it could be for example leased for a decade or two etc. with some re-zoning. Zoning and loans alone cannot make the private sector provide all the housing needed. The changes required to deal with the greater question of the needs of the housing market in general require a discussion all of their own. However zoning and loans are two critical elements of freeing the private sector’s hand to do more in the field of providing housing which extensively cross-cut with the question of solutions to informal housing.
A Role for Civil Society
Cost of land and construction, as well as the massive number of units required in a site like Iraq has traditionally been seen as being nearly entirely prohibitive to Civil Society work in the housing sector. In fact to the contrary, NGOs can play a critical role in terms of organizing and expressing the voice of informal settlement communities, which the state may have weak capacity at accessing. Bringing hard data on the actual needs and numbers of persons in such settlements is critical to providing durable solutions. The state is not prohibited from carrying out door-to-door surveys. The intrepid efforts of some politicians in this respect, such as Baghdad Provincial Council Member Mahdiya abed Hassan have been noted in the effort to muddle through community by community solutions to day to day problems of these citizen, thus building the connections and trust to do surveying as well. But such outstanding work is the exception not the rule, and as Ms. Hassan’s own example shows, carried out after-hours and through personal will. In more cases the state may face a lack of trust from settlers to provide valid data when asked to work with any arm of the law given the settlers’ fragile status on the fringe of legality. Second, Civil Society groups, NGOs can fill a critical gap in both in raising awareness about and advocating for the societal benefits of needed legal changes. In both cases Civil Society can play an active role in facilitating and encouraging government and private sector efforts in the complication question of providing durable solutions to the ongoing informal housing problem in Iraq.