The combination of poor internal investment and international sanctions has destroyed much of Iraq's economic life and created very high levels of poverty. The UN has estimated that, since sanctions were imposed in August 1990, there have been over one million Iraqi deaths due to inadequate food, sanitation and medical care. Iraq's mortality and morbidity rates are among the worst in the world; its child mortality rate is more than 12 times that of the UK.
Christian Aid's work in Iraq is based in the autonomous Kurdish region in the north. The Kurdish people are a stateless ethnic minority who live mainly in Turkey, Iran and northern Iraq. In Iraq, they represent 20 per cent of the population. They have suffered numerous human-rights abuses under President Saddam Hussein, who seized power in 1979. In 1991, the Kurdish area was brought under international protection by the UN's 'Operation Provide Comfort.' It has since formed an autonomous region but as this region is not recognised by international law, the Kurds still fear for their security.
Christian Aid supports three local Kurdish organisations:
- Rehabilitation, Education and Community
Health (REACH) provides safe drinking water for poor communities and
helps rural people make the most of their natural resources to grow food
and crops to meet their daily needs. It also provides health and hygiene
training and raises awareness about the impact of people's actions on
- Shanader is currently building
houses and schools, and generally improving the area's infrastructure
under the Oil for Food programme.
- The Zakho Small Villages Project (ZSVP) works with some of the poorest Kurdish communities. It works to improve literacy, health, water, sanitation and agriculture. It also provides vocational training, and is undertaking a new micro-credit project aimed at enhancing women's education, health and employment opportunities.
The Oil for Food programme (under which Iraq is allowed to sell some oil to purchase food and medicines) has had some effect in alleviating the humanitarian situation, but has greatly exacerbated the Iraqi people's dependency on imported food rations, which undermine local agriculture, markets and livelihoods.
On 14 May, revised UN sanctions on Iraq and a 'smart' sanctions regime were announced. These new sanctions aim to lift the burden from the Iraqi people, but whether they will affect the humanitarian situation remains to be seen.
Although there has been a liberalisation of the economy, the majority of the population remains dependent on welfare distributions under the Oil for Food programme, and the political leadership lacks coherence. Therefore, the Kurds face an uncertain future and their personal and communal security cannot be guaranteed. This has left many Kurds eager to leave the country, investing large sums of money in trying to do so, thus further undermining the economy.