Iraqis lack basic necessities, humanitarian crisis getting worse

Rising to the humanitarian challenge
Oxfam Briefing Paper
, July 30, 2007

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Iraqis are suffering from a growing lack of food, shelter, water and sanitation, health care, education, and employment. Of the four million Iraqis who are dependent on food assistance, only 60 per cent currently have access to rations through the government-run Public Distribution System (PDS), down from 96 per cent in 2004.

Forty-three per cent of Iraqis suffer from ‘absolute poverty’. According to some estimates, over half the population are now without work. Children are hit the hardest by the decline in living standards. Child malnutrition rates have risen from 19 per cent before the US-led invasion in 2003 to 28 per cent now.

The situation is particularly hard for families driven from their homes by violence. The two million internally displaced people (IDPs) have no incomes to rely on and are running out of coping mechanisms. In 2006, 32 per cent of IDPs had no access to PDS food rations, while 51 per cent reported receiving food rations only sometimes.

The number of Iraqis without access to adequate water supplies has risen from 50 per cent to 70 per cent since 2003, while 80 per cent lack effective sanitation. The ‘brain drain’ that Iraq is experiencing is further stretching already inadequate public services, as thousands of medical staff, teachers, water engineers, and other professionals are forced to leave the country. At the end of 2006, perhaps 40 per cent had left already.

The people of Iraq have a right, enshrined in international law, to material assistance that meets their humanitarian needs, and to protection, but this right is being neglected. The government of Iraq, international donors, and the United Nations (UN) system have been focused on reconstruction, development, and building political institutions, and have overlooked the harsh daily struggle for survival now faced by many. All these actors have a moral, political, and in the case of the government, legal obligation to protect ordinary Iraqis caught up in the conflict. They also have a responsibility to find ways to secure the right conditions for the delivery of assistance, both where conflict is intense and in less insecure parts of the country to which many people have fled.

The primary duty-bearer for the provision of basic services remains the national government, which must work to overcome the extensive obstacles that hamper its operations at central and local level. Oxfam and the NCCI believe that political will must be found to improve the emergency support system for the poorest citizens, including the internally displaced. The government should start with the decentralisation of the delivery of assistance. This would include giving power to local authorities to quality-check and distribute emergency supplies within their own governorates, together with a more extensive system of warehouse storage for supplies throughout Iraq. Establishing a proper legal framework for civil-society organisations would greatly assist non-government relief efforts by giving them the legal authority to operate in Iraq.

The expansion of the PDS for foodstuffs, including the establishment of a temporary PDS identity-card system for IDPs, is also priority. As is the extension of the programme of emergency cash allowances to households headed by widows, which should be increased from $100 per month so that it is closer to the average monthly wage of $200, and expanded to include other vulnerable groups. A $200 monthly payment to 1 million households, would cost $2.4bn per year, which is within the country’s financial capacity. Foreign governments with capacity and influence in Iraq, including the USA and the UK, must provide advice and technical assistance to Iraqi government ministries to implement these policies and supply basic services,

The main challenges both to the livelihoods of Iraqis and to the delivery of humanitarian assistance are the ongoing violence and insecurity. Political solutions to the conflict must be found as soon as possible, but in the meantime all armed groups, including the Iraqi security forces, the Multi-National Force in Iraq (MNF-I), local militia, and insurgents, should not harm civilian life, property, or infrastructure, and should respect the population’s right to assistance, in accordance with international human rights and humanitarian law.

Whilst indiscriminate, and often targeted, violence has greatly reduced the capacity of Iraqi civil-society organisations and NGOs, international NGOs (INGOs), the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement, and UN agencies to access the needy civilian population, this has not prevented many of these organisations from working with Iraqi communities to find creative ways to adapt to the constraints and continue to maintain a presence in Iraq.

There are 80 independent INGOs still engaged with Iraq, including NCCI members, and 45 of these have existing or potential emergency response programmes. Some have national staff running offices inside the country, with management based in a different country, commonly Jordan. Others fund and advise autonomous local Iraqi NGOs. These methods of working in highly insecure environments are often known as ‘remote programming’. By adopting such approaches, NGOs are the main implementers of UN and other humanitarian programmes inside Iraq.

Islamic and regional organisations are active in humanitarian response. Islamic Relief and Muslim Aid provide financial and technical support, focusing on humanitarian aid and orphan-care programmes, while the Qatari Red Crescent funds Iraqi NGOs and the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS). The Khomeni Foundation has been providing basic hygiene kits, blankets, and food to IDPs in the south of the country. Islamic political parties and religious organisations, including mosques, also respond to the survival needs of their constituencies.

International donors have been slow to recognise the scale of humanitarian needs. Development aid from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) donors increased by 922 per cent between 2003 and 2005 to $20,948m, whereas funding for humanitarian assistance fell by 47 per cent during the same period to $453m. Results from a recent Oxfam survey of donors show that 2006 funding for humanitarian assistance fell alarmingly to $95m despite the evident increase in need. The total is not complete as only 19 of the 22 Development Assistance Committee (DAC) donors were willing to provide data for the survey. However, eight of the top ten donors for humanitarian assistance to Iraq in 2005, including the US and the UK, did respond. Many humanitarian organisations will not accept money from governments that have troops in Iraq, as this could jeopardise their own security and independence. So it is particularly important that donors from countries which do not have troops there, such as Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland, agree to increase their budgets for humanitarian action in Iraq.

Donors and the UN have also not commonly appreciated the potential that exists to fund work inside Iraq, especially if there were greater willingness to support operations that do not involve all the conventional forms of delivery, monitoring and evaluation, and which may be costlier, yet which offer reasonable guarantees that money is well spent.

According to a survey of NGOs/INGOs conducted by Oxfam in April 2007, over 80 per cent could expand humanitarian work if they had increased access to funds. Both the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the IRCS have recently launched appeals for their substantial programmes in Iraq, which are yet to be fully funded.

The UN, especially the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), has a vital role to play in the provision of humanitarian assistance, through co-ordinating needs-assessment and delivery, advising the government, mobilising resources, and advocating for enhanced civilian protection. To date, the UN’s performance has been limited, not least by the tight security it has imposed on its staff following the loss of 22 employees in the 2003 bombing of the Canal Hotel. Nevertheless, there are welcome signs that the UN may be becoming more active. The publication in April 2007 of a ‘strategic framework’ for a co-ordinated humanitarian response in Iraq is a step in the right direction, as is the decision of the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in July 2007 to ask donors to double its budget for work with Iraqi refugees and the internally displaced to $123m.

Conclusion and policy recommendations
Bringing an end to war and civil strife in Iraq must be the overriding priority for the national government and the international community. However, the government, the countries of the MNF-I, the UN agencies, and international donors can do more to meet the other survival needs of the Iraqi population, despite the challenging environment.

The government of Iraq should take urgent action to address the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. Measures should include:

Local authorities should assume greater responsibility for providing assistance, shelter, and essential services to displaced people, as well as to vulnerable local populations, and should be given the power and resources by central government to do so.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs should increase the $100 per month payment to households headed by widows so that it is closer to the average monthly wage of $200, and expand the range of recipients to include other vulnerable groups, such as the displaced population.
The Ministry of Trade should improve the Public Distribution System (PDS). This should include the establishment of a temporary PDS identity card system so that displaced people can receive food rations.
The government should create a cross-ministerial team to co-ordinate its humanitarian response and should release funds at its disposal for delivery of this response.
Explicit orders should be given to the Iraqi security forces that they, like all armed groups, should not harm civilian life, property, or infrastructure, and should respect the population’s right to assistance.
The government of Iraq should support national NGOs through a legal framework, including registration procedures that recognise their rights and independence and secure their legal authority to operate in Iraq.
International governments with capacity and influence in Iraq should recognise their responsibilities towards the people of Iraq by:

Supporting Iraqi ministries through advice and technical assistance in order to ensure their capacity to provide basic services, notably improved food distribution, shelter, and the extension of welfare payments.
The governments of the Multi-National Force in Iraq (MNF-I) should recognise their particular responsibilities towards the people of Iraq by:

Ensuring that the armed forces respect their moral and legal obligation not to harm civilians or their property, or essential infrastructure.
Donors need to increase support to national and international NGOs, the ICRC, the IRCS, and UN agencies delivering the humanitarian response:

Donors should provide increased emergency funding that is readily accessible and flexible. In particular, donors must build on discussions under way with NGOs to better understand ‘remote programming’ and mechanisms for monitoring and verification.
Since many humanitarian organisations will not accept money from governments engaged in the conflict, it is important that donors from other countries, such as Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland, increase their funding for humanitarian action.
The UN, especially UNAMI and OCHA, needs to continue to strengthen its humanitarian role inside Iraq by:

Working towards the achievement of a co-ordinated response with the government of Iraq and NGOs, and between UN agencies.
Developing a more nuanced approach to the movement of UN staff that differentiates between constraints in different areas and which is more independent of the MNF-I, thereby allowing better needs assessment, co-ordination, and service delivery.
Building on the emergency field co-ordination structure established by the NCCI to enable rapid response to identified needs.
Administering a new pooled fund for rapid response that should be able to disburse monies to NGOs.

Click here to read the full report.

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