Hawiga district is one of the last areas of Iraq still occupied by the armed group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The offensive by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) to retake the city is due to begin imminently. With the beginning of the operation, the United Nations (UN) estimates that 65,000 civilians, still residing in ISIL-held territory, will be affected.
The fighting is likely to trigger mass displacement, with probable continued influx of civilians towards areas controlled by Iraqi and Kurdish forces.
Located in Kirkuk Governorate in northern Iraq, Hawiga district has been under ISIL control since June 2014. Following the takeover, the area became inaccessible to humanitarian actors. As of July 2016, military operations in nearby Shirqat cut the remaining trade routes between Hawiga and ISIL-controlled areas west of the Tigris River, after which Hawiga district has remained cut off from the rest of Iraq. With the upcoming offensive by the ISF, the number of individuals displacing from Hawiga district on a monthly basis doubled in August, to almost 1,000 individuals in that month alone.2
According to assessed individuals who left ISIL-controlled areas of Hawiga district over the past month, those remaining in the area are in severe humanitarian need. There is no access to healthcare, livelihood opportunities, education or sufficiently clean drinking water, along with limited food security. As a result, due to the lack of security and anticipation of the upcoming offensive, individuals are moving out of the district in increasing numbers, at high risk to their lives.
In order to inform the humanitarian response in Hawiga district, REACH collected in-depth information from 15 recently displaced male respondents between the ages of 24 and 60 from ISIL-controlled areas of Hawiga district, including Hawiga city and 9 surrounding villages. Data was collected remotely, through telephone interviews from 6-13 September 2017. All except one respondent left Hawiga district after 26 August, and therefore had relatively up-to-date information on the humanitarian situation in their areas of origin. Due to the inherent limitations of qualitative data collection, presented findings should be understood as indicative only, rather than statistically representative of the target population or the wider geographical area.
• The majority of IDPs leaving Hawiga district are traveling on two routes: either northwest toward the vicinity of Shirqat city, or north toward the vicinity of Makhmur city.
• Healthcare is not accessible for civilians due to the high price of medicine and lack of functional medical facilities. Some medicines are available, however they are extremely expensive and often out of date. There are reports of people dying due to the lack of healthcare – particularly those with chronic diseases.
• Malnutrition is reportedly widespread, with respondents indicating that most civilians are eating one to two meals per day. Available food is either being grown by residents or from the limited number of shops still open. Food and non-food items (NFIs) being sold in the aforementioned shops are largely smuggled in from outside of ISIL-controlled territory, and are very expensive and of a bad quality. There are reports of people becoming ill from out of date food.
• Clean drinking water is reportedly not accessible. Water is being collected directly from rivers and is not treated. There are widespread reports of illness from unclean water, including diarrhoea and skin diseases.
• There are no functional schools and no children are studying, and have reportedly not studied for at least three years. Some respondents reported that ISIL had established schools with an adapted curriculum, but that these schools were no longer functional.
• Respondents reported that there are little to no livelihood opportunities, with civilians relying on pensions, savings and subsitence farming.
• Shelter is not a major area of concern, as most villages have seen their populations decrease, and respondents generally reported low levels of damage - with the exception of Hawiga city.