Iraq: Earning a living, a daily challenge for civilians

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In a variety of different ways, the ICRC has been helping Iraqi individuals and communities to be self-sufficient economically. This is an update on ICRC activities carried out in Iraq in November.


Women whose male breadwinners have been detained or killed, or have gone missing, struggle to care for their families by themselves. In a society where women were not raised to be in charge of a family, the challenge is daunting. Finding a job is not an easy task. In cooperation with local non-governmental organizations, the ICRC has been helping households headed by women in Baghdad, Najaf and Basra to earn an income enabling them to cover their families' basic needs. Twenty-three projects have been implemented so far. "Before I had my shop, I was cooking plain tomato soup for my three kids. I was not able to give them breakfast and I had to sell the monthly ration to have some income," said a woman now running her own shop in Basra. "Now, my kids have a decent breakfast before going to school. They eat a good lunch and I can even add lentils or beans and spices to the tomato soup."

In addition to running the income-generating projects, the ICRC distributes food parcels and hygiene items on a monthly basis to women heading households all over the country. In November, more than 2,000 such households, mainly in Baghdad, Diyala, Ninawa and Salah Al-Din governorates, received assistance.

As winter approaches, internally displaced people (IDPs), particularly those in camps or group settlements, are facing harsher living conditions. In November the ICRC started distributing kitchen sets, thermoses, teapots, kettles, jerrycans, buckets, blankets, hygiene kits and tarpaulins to 43,000 displaced people in Diyala, Kirkuk, Sulaimaniya, Salah Al-Din and Ninawa governorates to help them cope with winter conditions.

Heavy rainfall has fallen on villages in Erbil, Dohuk and Sulaimaniya governorates and in the Khanaqin district of Diyala governorate, in northern Iraq. While the extra water in irrigation canals is a boon to agriculture, many families and their homes have been hit by severe flooding. More than 1,000 people, mainly in Erbil and Dohuk governorates, were given food rations, hygiene kits and other household essentials by the ICRC.

Visiting detainees

The ICRC regularly visits detention facilities run by various Iraqi ministries and the US authorities, where it monitors conditions of detention and the treatment of detainees. In November, ICRC delegates visited detainees:

- in US custody in camp Taji, Baghdad governorate;

- held under the authority of the Ministry of Justice in Fort Suse and Chamchamal prisons, Sulaimaniya governorate, in Baladiyat and Russafa prisons, Baghdad governorate, in Hilla prison, Babil governorate, and in Ma'aqal prison, Basra governorate;

- held under the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior in Tasfirat Najaf, Najaf governorate;

- held under the authority of the Ministry of Defence at the Central Military Intelligence Prison in Baghdad, Baghdad governorate;

- held under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and various security forces in northern Iraq in three prisons in Erbil, Dohuk and Sulaimaniya governorates.

In addition, the ICRC built a shade area in Basra's Ma'aqal prison to protect detainees and their visitors from harsh weather.

Over 6,320 Red Cross messages were exchanged between detainees and their families in November. The ICRC and the Iraqi Red Crescent Society work together to ensure that detainees and their families can stay in touch and exchange family news.

Helping families obtain information about their missing relatives

Hundreds of families are still living in painful uncertainty after more than 18 years without any news of their loved ones who went missing in connection with the 1990-1991 Gulf War. The families have a right to know what happened to their missing relatives and only the authorities can give them answers.

In an effort to make progress on this issue, the annual meeting of the Tripartite Commission investigating the cases of persons missing in connection with the Gulf War was held in Kuwait under ICRC auspices in November. The meeting was attended by representatives from Iraq, Kuwait and the Coalition (the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Saudi Arabia).

The members of the Commission reiterated their determination to see the process through and to find answers that can put an end to the agony of the families. While the meeting was taking place, the case of a missing Iraqi was resolved. To date, the work of the Commission has made it possible to determine what happened to some 300 missing persons.

In the framework of technical cooperation between the ICRC and the Iraqi authorities, an ICRC forensic adviser was invited by the Ministry of Human Rights to be present at exploratory exhumations in several governorates, mainly Nasiriya and Basra, seeking gravesites of people missing in connection with the 1980-1988 war between Iran and Iraq and with the 1990-1991 Gulf War.

Aid to vulnerable people

The ICRC maintained its support for income-generating projects that enable communities to be self-sufficient economically. In November:

- more than 30,800 cattle providing income for around 1,260 people were immunized against foot-and-mouth disease as part of an animal vaccination project in Kirkuk;

- around 2,000 farmers in Ninawa governorate were given barley to use as fodder for their animals, their only source of revenue. Fodder is in short supply in the area because of a drought;

- repair work carried out on 63 kilometres of irrigation canals in Diyala and Erbil governorates occupied around 6,000 people. The work will enhance the flow of water in the canals, which will result in better crop yields and thus more income for local families. It also provides job opportunities and a source of income, mainly for destitute farmers who clean the canals;

- forty disabled people in Erbil and Dohuk governorates, former patients of the ICRC limb-fitting centre in Erbil, were provided with livestock and other items enabling them to start small businesses and regain economic self-sufficiency.

Support for limb-fitting centres

The ICRC provides equipment and training for 10 limb-fitting and rehabilitation centres run by the Iraqi Ministry of Health, one ICRC-managed centre in Erbil, and two workshops manufacturing crutches.

In November, the ICRC organized a five-day seminar in Erbil on manufacturing prostheses for patients with amputations below the elbow using components made of polypropylene, a durable material well suited for these devices. Eight technicians from six physical rehabilitation centres throughout the country attended.

Also in November, the ICRC awarded a four-year scholarship to an Iraqi citizen enabling him to be trained in prosthetics and orthotics at a recognized school in Tanzania. There are now nine Iraqis studying abroad - eight in Cambodia and one in Tanzania - on ICRC scholarships.

Providing clean water and sanitation

ICRC water engineers are constantly working to repair and improve water infrastructure in Iraq. In November, the ICRC:

- supplied transformers and generators to improve the electricity system in Al Sadr Teaching Hospital, serving the 546,000 inhabitants of Najaf city and nearby villages as well as millions of pilgrims;

- provided the water board in Aqra district, Dohuk governorate, with electrical and electro-mechanical items to repair damage caused by lightning and floods to a network supplying potable water to around 120,000 people;

- completed the construction of the new Razga primary health-care centre, in the Qandil mountains, which will serve 2,000 people;

- rebuilt the Um Al Baneen primary health-care centre in Nasiriyah, Thi-Qar governorate, serving the 100,000 residents of Nasiriyah city and people displaced from Baghdad;

- repaired a mortuary refrigerator at the Tikrit Medico-Legal Institute, Salah Al-Din governorate;

- installed a new pump at the Salamiya water treatment plant, Ninawa governorate, to improve a water supply system serving 300,000 people;

- improved the pumping capacity and replaced the chemical treatment units at the Sadr Al Yousofiya water treatment plant, Baghdad governorate, serving around 35,000 people;

- installed pumps in the sewage-lifting station of Samawa city, serving 20,000 people, and in that of Ibn al Nefees, serving 7,000 people, in Muthanna governorate;

Water was delivered by truck to:

- 4,500 displaced people and to Al Imam Ali General Hospital and Al Yarmouk Teaching Hospital, both in Baghdad;

- Qalawa Quarter camp in Sulaimaniya, hosting around 360 displaced people.

Promoting international humanitarian law

In line with its mandate, the ICRC promotes international humanitarian law and reminds parties of their obligation to protect civilians. In November, it organized a series of seminars and presentations on international humanitarian law for various audiences all over Iraq. It also organized a seminar on Islam and international humanitarian law in Najaf, under the auspices of the Kufa University, for religious clerics from the Shia and Sunni Endowments and academics from the Middle Euphrates.