PROFILE OF THE CRISIS
OVERVIEW AND IMPACT
The majority of displaced families are expected to return to their communities by the end of the year
The humanitarian crisis in Iraq is entering a new phase. Combat operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have ended and hundreds of thousands of displaced people are returning to their homes and communities.
Retaken areas are being cleared of explosive hazards and rubble and major efforts are underway to restore electricity, water and sewage grids, re-establish the Government’s social protection floor, jump-start local economies and open schools and health centres. Displaced camps are being consolidated and decommissioned and modalities are being put in place for ensuring that the highly vulnerable families who are currently receiving assistance from humanitarian partners are covered under the Government’s new Poverty Reduction Strategy.
The human toll of four years of intensive, virtually non-stop combat has been enormous. In 2014, 2.5 million civilians were displaced inside Iraq; in 2015, more than one million people fled their homes; in 2016, an additional 700,000 people fled and in 2017, 1.7 million civilians were newly displaced. Population movements have been multi-directional; at the same time that hundreds of thousands of people have been fleeing their homes, hundreds of thousands have been returning.
The pace and scale of displacement have made the Iraq crisis one of the largest and most volatile in the world. Civilians have been at extreme risk throughout, from aerial bombardment, artillery barrage, cross-fire, snipers, and unexploded ordnance. Tens of thousands of civilians have been used as human shields and hundreds of thousands have survived siege-like conditions.
The military operation to retake Mosul, starting in October 2016 and ending nine months later in July 2017, was the longest urban battle since World War II. In accordance with the army’s humanitarian concept of operations, one million civilians were safely evacuated from the city in the largest managed evacuation from a combat zone in modern history.
Humanitarians were on the frontlines and in emergency camps throughout, liaising with Iraqi security forces to ensure civilians were evacuated safely and providing life-saving assistance to the 1.7 million people who either fled or stayed in their homes. Priority was given to reaching civilians as soon as they crossed to safety; a reported 20,000 severely wounded people were referred to hospitals during the offensive, including 12,700 people who were stabilized at frontline trauma posts managed by health partners.
It will take years to rebuild Iraq. Damage and loss assessments conducted by the Ministry of Planning and analysed by the World Bank estimate that reconstruction will take at least 10 years and cost well over US$88 billion.
The health and education sectors have been particularly hardhit. The number of consultations performed in health clinics has increased eightfold since 2014. Thirty-six per cent of health centres in Salah al-Din are damaged or destroyed and only half of health facilities in Ninewa are fully functional. Schools in conflict-affected areas are operating double and triple shifts. Last year alone, more than 150 schools were damaged or destroyed. Nearly 50 per cent of children in displaced camps do not have access to quality education and 3.2 million children attend school irregularly or not at all.
Agricultural production has declined 40 per cent compared to pre-conflict levels when crop production, including wheat, barley, maize, fruits and vegetables in Ninewa and Salah al-Din provided nearly 70 per cent of household income. The poverty rate in the areas most impacted by the fighting exceeds 40 per cent. Poor households and close to one-third of displaced families are currently relying on negative coping strategies. Nearly 1.9 million Iraqis are food insecure; 7.3 million people require health care; 5.2 million protection support; 5.4 million water and sanitation assistance and 4.1 million people need shelter.
Although the conflict has ended, multiple, unpredictable volatile dynamics are expected to continue throughout 2018. Asymmetric attacks cannot be ruled out, particularly in areas where ISIL retains local support, resulting in new displacement and impacting returns. New sources of instability may possibly emerge, linked to delays in reconciliation and political tensions, including in disputed areas.
As many as two million displaced Iraqis are likely to return to their homes during 2018. Although major efforts are being made by the Government of Iraq and Kurdistan Regional Government to incentivize and facilitate returns, many vulnerable families are unable to return without assistance. Displaced people from areas which are not yet stable are likely to delay going home until conditions improve and will continue to need support. Families living in camps and substandard accommodation are highly vulnerable and host communities throughout the country, most particularly in the Kurdistan Region, are facing widespread unemployment and deteriorating public services.
During 2018, and beyond, millions of people are likely to need protection support as families and communities grapple with post-conflict realities. Retaliation against people associated with ISIL and sectarian-related violence are problems in sensitive areas. Families without civil documentation are struggling to access the Government’s social protection floor and claim compensation. Hundreds of thousands of people who have been brutalized by violence, including women and children, require specialized support and services, many of which are only partially available.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.