The GoI designated the DNGO as lead authority for receiving national humanitarian access letter applications.
COVID-19-related economic shocks continue to disproportionately affect vulnerable Iraqis, harming livelihoods and generating additional humanitarian needs.
USG partners facilitated voluntary IDP returns to Ninewa Governorate under the durable solutions framework.
DNGO Assumes Humanitarian Access Letter Authorities
In September, the Government of Iraq (GoI) designated the Directorate of Non-Governmental Organizations (DNGO) as the country’s lead authority for processing humanitarian access letters, USAID/BHA partners report. The decision is part of a revised process to reinstate a national humanitarian access authorization system after the GoI suspended the previous process in November 2019. The reform follows several months of regulatory uncertainty, with relief actors negotiating access on a governorate-by-governorate basis, which has hindered timely humanitarian response efforts. In July, access-related challenges—approximately 95 percent of which were due to administrative restrictions resulting from access letter issues and COVID-19 preventive measures—affected more than 231,000 people in need in Anbar, Baghdad, Kirkuk, and Ninewa governorates, the UN reports. USAID/BHA partners continue to advocate for the removal of all sub-national access requirements to prevent critical delays to the delivery of humanitarian assistance, as well as temporary exemptions for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with expired letters while the GoI operationalizes the new system.
IDPs Face Elevated Protection Risks Amid Economic Downturn
Socioeconomic shocks resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic are exacerbating vulnerabilities faced by internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees, further impeding their ability to meet basic needs, USAID/BHA partners report. More than 70 percent of out-of-camp IDPs cited eviction as a concern in July, compared with 5 percent prior to the COVID-19 outbreak in Iraq, according to the Protection Cluster—the coordinating body for humanitarian protection activities, comprising UN agencies, NGOs, and other stakeholders. Across Iraq, approximately 800,000 IDPs live in rented homes, with high rates of informal lease agreements elevating the risk of eviction due to the lack of legal protections. USAID/BHA partners report that evictions undermine COVID-19 mitigation efforts by depriving people of access to essential water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services, and increase protection risks—including child labor and the accumulation of debt—as households increasingly adopt negative coping mechanisms to pay rent. U.S. Government (USG) partners continue to support vulnerable Iraqis to help meet basic needs and mitigate protection risks, with State/PRM partner the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) providing nearly 4,200 IDPs and refugees with legal assistance in August and approximately 98,000 IDP and refugee households with COVID-19 cash assistance from April to September.
COVID-19 Operating Restrictions Negatively Affect Livelihoods
Operating restrictions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 have severely affected small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), negatively affecting livelihoods across Iraq, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports. Analyzing nearly 900 SMEs across 15 Iraqi governorates from June 22 to July 7, IOM found that average revenue had declined by approximately 65 percent, with nearly two-thirds of the surveyed SME owners contemplating closing their businesses permanently, the report notes. In a separate UN survey of nearly 3,300 households and nearly 1,200 private businesses from June 16 to June 30, three-quarters of respondents reported a loss of employment and that average monthly income had declined by approximately 40 percent compared with May 2019. Additionally, more than 80 percent of surveyed households reported lack of financial savings; in May 2020, the UN estimated the poverty rate could double by the end of the year. To help meet the needs of those affected by the socioeconomic aspects of the pandemic, USAID/BHA partners prioritize the provision of livelihoods support, with one partner reaching more than 8,900 individuals across five governorates with multipurpose cash assistance (MPCA) from July to September. Moreover, in Ninewa, a State/PRM partner is providing 460 individuals with cash-for-work opportunities to support public infrastructure projects in the town of Bartella.
USG Promotes Durable Solutions in Ninewa
USG partners facilitated the voluntary return of 120 households from Ninewa’s Salamiyah IDP camp to areas of origin elsewhere in the governorate in September, IOM reports. With support from the GoI Ministry of Migration and Displaced, the operation follows a similar initiative in July, when USG partners supported 40 households sheltering in Anbar’s Amriyat al-Fallujah camp to return to areas of origin in Anbar. The two initiatives are part of a multi-stakeholder effort to promote durable solutions to displacement in Iraq via livelihoods support, MPCA, and shelter assistance, as well as post-return reintegration services. Political instability, ongoing armed conflict, and the lack of a harmonized, whole-of-government policy approach have hindered GoI efforts to sustainably integrate returnees to date, according to a September UN report. The USG continues to work with GoI and relief partners to support Iraq’s 1.3 million IDPs and enable dignified, informed, safe, voluntary, and sustainable returns.
COVID-19-Related Access Barriers Result in Reduced Food Consumption
The economic impact of COVID-19 continues to negatively affect food security conditions in Iraq, as many vulnerable households report loss of incomes and livelihoods, hindering the ability to purchase essential commodities such as food. In addition, market disruptions and other COVID-19 economic impacts have diminished food access countrywide. In August, more than 90 percent of agricultural vendors reported difficulty transporting goods to market due to inter-governorate movement restrictions imposed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. As a result, two-thirds of those surveyed in August reported reducing meal frequency since the start of the pandemic, increasing the need for humanitarian assistance. As of September 28, approximately 3.5 million people were experiencing food insecurity in Iraq, representing an increase of 320,000 people compared to the previous month, the UN reports. In response to increased food needs, USAID/BHA partner the UN World Food Program (WFP) continues to support food-insecure populations across Iraq, providing emergency cash and food assistance to approximately 256,000 IDPs, 69,000 refugees, and 56,000 returnees and people from vulnerable communities across 12 governorates in September.