USG announces nearly $204 million in additional humanitarian assistance—including for food, health, shelter, and WASH activities—in mid-August.
Total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Iraq reaches nearly 219,500, including more than 6,740 recorded deaths, as of August 28, according to WHO.
Access restrictions continue to hinder life- saving programming and impede access to at least 2.2 million people in need of assistance, according to the UN.
Roadside IED in Ninewa Damages WFP Convoy Carrying Food Aid
On August 26, a roadside improvised explosive device (IED) detonated near the town of Bartilla in Iraq’s Ninewa Governorate, impacting a passing UN World Food Program (WFP) convoy. WFP—a USAID/BHA partner—reported that the attack injured at least one staff member and damaged the humanitarian vehicle. The incident underscores the ongoing security risks facing relief workers in Iraq, as they continue to provide assistance to the country’s most vulnerable populations. The UN, international relief organizations, and the U.S. Embassy in Iraq have condemned the attack, and Government of Iraq (GoI) authorities have opened an investigation into the incident.
New Humanitarian Assistance Announced at U.S.-Iraq Strategic Dialogue
The U.S. Government (USG) announced nearly $204 million in additional humanitarian assistance for Iraq on August 19 during the U.S.–Iraq Strategic Dialogue, a bilateral meeting between USG and GoI officials. The new humanitarian assistance includes nearly $133 million from State/PRM and more than $71 million from USAID/BHA. The funding will support internally displaced persons (IDPs), host communities, and other vulnerable populations in Iraq, as well as Iraqi refugees in the region, through emergency food, health, protection, shelter, and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) assistance. The USG remains the largest humanitarian donor for the Iraq response, contributing $706 million since FY 2019.
COVID-19 Cases Increase; USG Partners Respond to Meet Basic Needs
Across Federal Iraq and the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR), confirmed COVID-19 cases reached record highs between August 15 and 21, with an average of 4,000 cases reported daily during the week. As of August 28, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases had reached more than 219,500, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) reports. Health actors identified limited public compliance with containment measures and uneven enforcement of restrictions as the primary reasons for the increase in cases. Meanwhile, USG partners report that COVID-19-related movement and operating restrictions have reduced access to employment and livelihood opportunities and limited IDPs’ ability to pay rent, raising concern about IDPs spending savings or going into debt to afford shelter and other necessities. In response, the USG has provided $47 million to support preparedness and response efforts, including conducting risk communication and community engagement activities; providing support for health services, including through training medical personnel and providing essential medicines and medical supplies; distributing hygiene kits and conducting associated hygiene promotion; and offering critical psychosocial support services. Additionally, USAID/BHA partners are distributing multipurpose cash assistance (MPCA) to enable individuals to meet their basic needs.
IDPs Report Rise in Protection Issues During COVID-19 Pandemic
In June and July, the Protection Cluster—the coordinating body for humanitarian protection activities, comprising UN agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and other stakeholders—interviewed conflict-affected and displaced communities in IDP camps, informal sites, and areas of return areas across 17 governorates to assess protection concerns resulting from COVID-19. Nearly 85 percent of camp-based respondents said that protection issues had increased significantly since February. Respondents consistently identified movement restrictions as the most prevalent protection concern in both camp and out-of-camp settings, with mental health issues—including trauma, stress, and anxiety— accounting for the second-most common protection issue cited. Additionally, approximately 78 percent of in-camp respondents and 63 percent of out-of-camp respondents noted a significant rise in protection issues affecting women and girls, such as psychological trauma, lack of specialized services, and absence of access to safe space and privacy. According to ongoing surveys by State/PRM partners, nearly ￼80 percent of in-camp IDPs reported an increase in gender-based violence (GBV) incidents during the ￼pandemic.
Relief Actors Urge Implementation of New Access Letter Approval Process
Following an August 17 meeting, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and NGO Coordination Committee for Iraq (NCCI) are urging the GoI National Operations Center (NOC) to instate a new, permanent process for access authorizations in Federal Iraq. The absence of a permanent mechanism to process access letter applications has hindered the ability of relief organizations to respond to humanitarian needs since November 2019. USG partners have been utilizing COVID-19 movement exemptions, locally negotiated access, and national staff to continue humanitarian programming; however, program implementation has slowed and access varies frequently and by location. A four-month pilot project beginning in March to assist the GoI in setting up a permanent mechanism for access authorizations ended on June 30 without a system to replace it. On July 25, the Office of the Prime Minister issued a memo to governorate authorities stating that relief actors only require a valid authorization letter from the NOC to operate in Iraq. The NOC confirmed that NGOs will no longer require additional authorizations, and noted that the national authority for processing NGO access requests may return to the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Center, the agency responsible for access letters prior to November 2019, according to the UN. The NOC is finalizing a formal guidance document outlining the steps for NGOs to request and receive access letters; OCHA and NCCI urge the NOC to finalize the document by the end of August 2020.
IOM Tracks High Levels of IDP Arrivals to Sinjar, Al Ba’aj
Despite widespread COVID-19-related movement restrictions, IDPs continue to return to areas of origin. Between June 8 and August 21, nearly 15,500 people arrived to Ninewa’s Al Ba’aj and Sinjar districts, according to the International Organization of Migration’s (IOM) Displacement Tracking Matrix. The rate of arrival to Al Ba’aj and Sinjar declined in August after peaking with more than 700 returns in a single day in mid-July; however, more than 700 individuals returned to the districts between August 7 and 21. Returnees commonly cited improved security conditions, the clearing of mines, and rehabilitated public infrastructure as reasons for return. However, IOM reports that many individuals have returned to areas with limited access to basic services and humanitari an assistance. Nearly 80 percent of IDPs arriving to Al Ba’aj and Sinjar came from camp settings. Countrywide, the population in formal IDP camps decreased by 31 percent from August 2019 to July 2020; as of July, nearly 262,000 people remained in 43 IDP camps in Iraq, according to the Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) Cluster.
Iraqis Rely on Negative Coping Strategies Despite Stable Food Prices
In early August, WFP reported an improvement in national food consumption scores in Iraq, with 430,000 fewer persons reporting insufficient food consumption compared to July. However, 5.3 million people—nearly 14 percent of the surveyed population—were found to have adopted negative coping strategies to meet basic food needs, partly in response to COVID-19 restrictions. Nearly 30 percent of households reported relying on the purchase of less expensive food, representing the most common negative coping strategy among the surveyed population. Additionally, while the price of staple food commodities—including sugar, vegetable oil, and wheat flour—remained stable across Iraq, nearly 30 percent of respondents, or approximately 1.7 million people, reported limited market access, primarily due to movement restrictions. With continued USAID/BHA support, WFP reached nearly 336,000 people with food assistance in July.