When Iraq recorded its first cases of COVID-191 , the country has already been facing a combination of crises.
The anti-government demonstrations that broke out, in October 2019, against the lack of basic services, and economic opportunities, as well as the suspension of all productive sectors, had a great impact on the entire economy. Moreover, the rapid spread of the COVID-19, along with the collapse of oil prices affecting Iraq’s oil revenues2 , and the escalating tension between Iran and the US, on Iraqi soil, have had their toll, mainly on the political, economic, and social scenes.
One of the main challenges in the pandemic response, was the lack of resources. Out of the State’s $106.5 billion budget, in 2019, the health sector has been allocated only 2.5 per cent, which represents a fraction of spending elsewhere in the Middle East. Over the past decade, data from WHO3 shows that the government has spent per capita on healthcare, $161 per citizen, per year, compared to Jordan’s $304 and Lebanon’s $649. In addition, there is a shortage in the number of hospitals, lack of medical equipment and supplies, and a shortfall of specialized doctors and medical staff.
However, despite its unpreparedness and considering its limited capabilities and resources, the government’s response to the pandemic was praised by WHO, on April 18th, appreciating: “The efforts of local authorities, including governors and provincial officials, to contain the virus”. Indeed, the early response began with the announcement of the formation of a Ministerial Crisis Cell, which later became a Ministerial Committee headed by the Minister of Health and Environment4 , and the membership of relevant ministries and agencies.
Moreover, the COVID-19 Crisis Cell set up by the Council of Representatives, on March 22nd, recommended to include the expedited purchase of equipment, support to security forces to enforce the curfew and facilitate the return of Iraqis abroad. On the same day, President Barham Salih launched an initiative to mobilize national and grass-root level efforts to counter COVID-19.
On March 11th , WHO declared the disease a pandemic, and to slow the spread of the virus, a nationwide curfew imposed on March 17th , shut down commerce and most informal sector workers lost their source of income.
In Iraq, the UN system is committed to supporting the government to overcome these unparalleled crises, through the 2020-2024 United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNSDCF) designed to support the State and Iraqi people to achieve their National Development Plan targets, aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals. This includes supporting a diversified economy, preceded by reforms to encourage private sector investment, to make the country more resilient to oil shocks and to boost employment in highly productive sectors.