With the displacement of 85,000 people from Fallujah over the past month, Iraq is now host to more than 3.4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), making it one of the three largest internal displacement crises in the world. About one million of these people have remained uprooted after the events of 2003 in Iraq; the other 2.3 million have been forcibly displaced since the beginning of 2014 due in large part to the activities of ISIS. In addition, estimates are that more than 10 million people in Iraq are in need of humanitarian assistance to survive. At the same time, the government of Iraq continues to struggle with a deteriorating economic situation and ongoing political turmoil.
We acknowledge and deeply appreciate the U.S. government’s leadership on the humanitarian response in Iraq. This assistance has saved lives and made a genuine difference in IDPs’ well-being. Nonetheless, a larger group of concerned international donors must get involved in humanitarian assistance to Iraq in order to address the situation more effectively.
While we tend to hear much about conditions in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), the majority of the IDPs and of the humanitarian need are in fact in Iraq’s central and southern provinces. Baghdad and Anbar governorates alone host 33% of the IDPs in the country—more than the entire KRI. However, detailed information on the needs of IDPs outside the KRI is scarce, and support for them is regularly impeded by security concerns that prevent both the government of Iraq and aid groups from reaching them.
In late 2015, Refugees International conducted a research mission to Iraq—specifically, the central and southern provinces—to learn more about living conditions for the internally displaced. In the IDP settlements in Anbar and Baghdad, people told us about how they had been displaced several times, how the government’s monthly food distributions were not forthcoming, and how there was no electricity where they were now living. We spoke to people whose family members had died for lack of medical care after they were displaced, people who lived in an abandoned building with raw sewage filling the entryway, people who would not send their children to school because they felt it was too dangerous to leave the IDP camp, and people who did not know where the next meal would come from.
That was nine months ago. Since then, another quarter of a million Iraqis have been displaced and the insecurity in the country has increased, much of it focused around the central region. The United Nations humanitarian appeal is only 33% funded, and July’s pledging conference could not come at a more crucial moment.
The U.S. government’s recent announcement of $20 million in humanitarian aid for Iraq, and the upcoming pledge at the July funding conference, are welcome developments. We urge the United States to maintain a strong focus on the humanitarian and stabilization needs in Iraq as a complement to security activities.
In keeping with the goal of the conference, more international donors must make meaningful contributions and prioritize addressing the humanitarian situation in Iraq.
The U.S. should find ways—including financial—to support local groups and civil society in Iraq through humanitarian-specific capacity-building programs. Local and volunteer Iraqi groups are a significant part of the humanitarian response in the central and southern provinces in particular, and are providing aid where many traditional partners cannot.
The near future in Iraq does not look hopeful. A military intervention in Mosul could uproot at least another one million people, and the failure of the Mosul dam would add a far-reaching disaster to the list of concerns. While international actors are all doing what they can to prevent both events, we must all nonetheless be prepared for a further deterioration of humanitarian conditions in Iraq and for a continuing need for lifesaving assistance.