In Iraq, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak hit when the country was already facing a humanitarian crisis, further deepening vulnerabilities and disrupting ongoing efforts to deliver aid to the most vulnerable people in acute need of assistance. Those most in need are people directly affected by the 2014–2017 conflict, particularly those who continue to be internally displaced or have returned to their areas of origin after having been displaced.
The 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan estimated that 1.77 million people required support, with 0.92 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnees facing acute food insecurity. The COVID-19 case numbers in Iraq continue to rise sharply, and as of 2 November, there were 475 288 confirmed cases. The pandemic has only exacerbated vulnerabilities, and out-of-camp internally displaced and returnee households are at risk of becoming even more food insecure, particularly those without a stable source of income.
The agriculture sector in the targeted Salah al din Governorate is an important source of income for households and is essential for domestic production. The occupation by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and subsequent liberation negatively affected the agriculture sector; infrastructure was destroyed, land was contaminated with explosive ordinances, and families were displaced. In addition to being an agricultural hub, the target area hosts a large number of returnees and IDPs. Thus, there is a pressing need to revive agricultural livelihoods in order to increase income-generating opportunities in the rural areas and facilitate sustainable returns in the future.
Cash transfers are an appropriate response to COVID-19, as many households have lost their source of income, yet the markets remain relatively functional. The provision of the combination of cash and in-kind inputs will grant farmers the dignity of choice to use the cash to meet their most urgent needs, while ensuring farmers have access to high quality inputs despite any COVID-19 associated business closures or supply chain bottlenecks. The training that accompanies the input distributions will ensure that farmers can maximize the benefit of the inputs and adopt more sustainable production practices.
Through SFERA, the Government of Belgium contributed USD 500 000 to FAO to mitigate the potential adverse impacts of COVID-19 on the food security of vulnerable farming IDPs and returnees’ households in Iraq. With Belgium’s generous support, FAO will assist 750 households (4 350 people) by providing them with a one-time unconditional cash transfer in addition to season-sensitive agricultural inputs, accompanied by training in good agricultural practices, to improve their food security and nutrition.