Christian Aid in northern Iraq Mar 2003

After years of sanctions and intermittent bombing by American and British forces, Iraq's economy and infrastructure is devastated and the humanitarian situation is grave. Iraq's military spending, the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction and the lack of protection for ethnic populations also cause concern.
Poor internal investment and international sanctions have destroyed much of Iraq's economic life and created severe poverty. The UN has estimated that, since sanctions were imposed in August 1990, there have been over one million Iraqi deaths from inadequate food, sanitation and medical care.

Christian Aid works in the autonomous northern Kurdish region. 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 is not internationally recognised, the Kurds still fear for their safety.

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.

  • Integrated water management in northern Iraq

  • 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 to improve literacy, health, water, sanitation and agriculture. It also provides vocational training.

More on the current economic situation

The Oil for Food programme (under which Iraq is allowed to sell some oil to purchase food and medicines) has had some effect, but has greatly exacerbated the Iraqi people's dependency on imported food rations.

On 14 May, revised UN sanctions on Iraq and a 'smart' sanctions regime were announced. These aim to lift the burden from the Iraqi people, but there has been no evidence of improvement in their situation.

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. The Kurds face an uncertain future , and many are eager to leave the country,thus further undermining the economy.