Humanitarian context / Key developments
In many respects, the humanitarian context in Iraq has maintained the status quo in 2019. However, despite detailed needs assessments and strategic response planning, the operational environment for which the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) was crafted has moved in unanticipated directions, and in some instances, deteriorated. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) continue to return to their areas of origin, although at a markedly reduced rate from recent years. In January 2019, there were approximately 1.8 million IDPs in Iraq, and as of May 2019, that number had fallen to 1.67 million, a reduction of 7.5 per cent. There is a common perception that those with means and ability to independently return to their areas of origin have already done so, while the population that remains displaced will continue to need considerable help from political, humanitarian, and development actors both during their displacement and in order to return. Recent targeting exercises carried out by the CCCM Cluster and WFP indicated that the population of in-camp IDPs targeted in the Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) may be at least 10 per cent lower, or approximately 50,000 people fewer, which will lead to a probable adjustment in programming. There are several reasons suspected for the variance, including intentional inflation at household level and undocumented migration outside the camps.
More than one year after federal elections in May 2018, at least one Cabinet position has yet to be filled, although three prominent posts likely to impact humanitarian operations (Ministers of Justice, Defence and Interior) have recently been appointed. Enhanced coherence in policymaking by the Government of Iraq may result, although a review of the 2020 Budget indicates that, despite record oil revenues, the budgets for migration and displacement, and for basic services such as electricity, water supply and infrastructure, are limited. This will affect service provision for all Iraqis, especially IDPs and host communities who are among the most vulnerable.
Escalating tensions between the United States and Iran, two influential allies, add to the uncertain operating context. The Prime Minister's efforts to rein in the influence of the Population Mobilization Forces (PMF) militias have not yet been fully realized, but as the PMF are a key driver of access constraints in certain regions and of ethno-social tensions in some return areas, the endeavor is welcome nonetheless.
Natural disasters and phenomena, although not wholly unexpected, continue to highlight gaps in humanitarian planning and preparedness. Heavier than usual rainfall and flooding in several governorates in March/April 2019 revealed the limited presence and coordination of UN agencies and humanitarian partners in southern Iraq. In parallel, an unanticipated outbreak of hundreds of small-scale fires in agricultural fields across 11 governorates may impact livelihoods and food security in coming months. Most of the fires are presumed to be intentionally lit: the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has claimed responsibility for some of the fires. Certain observers believe the fires are an intentional tactic targeting returnees or aiming to deter IDPs from returning, and there are also concerns that the arson attacks could be political in nature, noting patterns in the locations of the fires within contested areas. Effects on humanitarian operations has so far been limited, but the full impact has not yet been assessed.
Also unforeseen when the 2019 HRP was originally being developed was the large-scale repatriation of Iraqi citizens from Al-Hol camp in Syria. The majority of Al-Hol camp residents fled Baghouz in eastern Syria during the fierce military campaign against ISIL. The current population of the camp is approximately 73,000 people, of whom an estimated 31,000 are Iraqi citizens; of these, 84 per cent are women and children. Most of the Iraqis residing in Al-Hol are expected to be repatriated to Iraq. The return of Iraqi citizens from Syria is ultimately a question for the Government of Iraq (GoI) regarding timing, sequencing, security screening, and destination.
Unverified information concerning the numbers of people and their dates of departure is continuously circulating, but there has been no official announcement form the GoI with specific details. The Government of Iraq has indicated that any returns will be voluntary in nature. However, given the government's security concerns, potential antagonism from other Iraqis to the returnees, and the returnees’ significant humanitarian needs, it is anticipated that most of this population will reside in existing IDP camps upon their return. The Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) has prepared and disseminated an operational plan to host returning Iraqis within a multi-camp approach drawn from existing humanitarian camps in Ninewa Governate. Immediate challenges will concern the availability of infrastructure – plots, tents, and water, sanitation and hygiene. The more demanding and protracted challenges will be around the quality of health, nutrition, education, psychosocial support and protection programming for what will be a complex caseload. These needs will be additional to those already identified by the clusters in the 2019 HRP.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.