Iraq Humanitarian Fund Annual Report 2020

Originally published




Humanitarian situation in 2020 In the third year since the end of military operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the humanitarian context in Iraq remained fragile, characterized by protracted internal displacement; eroded national social cohesion; extensive explosive ordnance threatening IDPs, returnees and communities; and incomplete rehabilitation of housing, basic services and livelihoods opportunities.

At the beginning of 2020, approximately 1.4 million people remained internally displaced in Iraq, while 4.1 million people were in need some form of humanitarian assistance. Spontaneous returns of IDPs continued throughout the year but remained slow in most areas and were often unsustainable due to unresolved challenges in their areas of origin. Under the 2020 Iraq Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP), humanitarian organizations aimed to provide prioritized assistance to vulnerable IDPs who had not been able to achieve durable solutions, returnees living in areas of high severity, and people with critical protection needs.

Returns, camp closure and consolidation
Coordinated humanitarian and recovery assistance to the displaced population in search of durable solutions remained at the top of the international community’s priorities for Iraq in 2020. IDPs continued to return to their areas of origin throughout the year (over 235,000 new returnees were recorded in 2020), albeit at a significantly slower pace than in 2019 and 2018. Population movements accelerated in the last months of the year with Government-initiated camp consolidation and closures, which resulted in premature returns and secondary displacement.

Despite significant reconstruction efforts in the conflict-affected governorates, returnees continued to face a multitude of challenges in the return sites, including lack of security, basic services, livelihood opportunities and social cohesion.
Families with perceived affiliations to extremist groups were among the most vulnerable, unwelcome in their areas of origin and prone to isolation and discrimination. Rushed and forced departures from camps and informal settlements in the last three months of the year led to considerable secondary displacement, especially in Ninewa and Kirkuk governorates. These populations, whose returns were not sustainable, often moved to informal sites that were not well-served by humanitarian actors.

Throughout the year, the humanitarian community advocated for stronger intra-government coordination and adherence to the government-endorsed Principled Returns Framework to facilitate voluntary, dignified, informed and sustainable returns. Partners on the ground closely monitored the population movements to address shifting pockets of risks and vulnerabilities, and to provide agile humanitarian and protection assistance to these populations.

COVID-19 pandemic and reprioritization of humanitarian response
The COVID-19 pandemic and the linked drop in oil prices in early 2020 increased socioeconomic vulnerabilities across Iraq, including among IDPs and returnees. Unemployment rose, while the average expenditure for food increased, likely due to a combination of price fluctuations and loss of jobs and income. Protection issues were amplified, while access to legal and community-based support was curtailed by movement restrictions, the disruption of public services and other measures to mitigate the spread of the virus. As a result, reliance on negative coping mechanisms intensified and psychological trauma, stress and anxiety increased.

Basic services — including health care, education, water and sanitation, and legal services — were already inadequate in displacement and return locations prior to the pandemic, the consequence of decades of conflict and turmoil. Closures of schools and public offices, and increased demands for health and sanitation services due to COVID-19, stretched these services further in 2020.

Considering the pandemic’s impact on conflict-affected populations and ongoing humanitarian response in Iraq, the humanitarian community in early March began the re-prioritization of humanitarian activities under the HRP, identifying critical life-saving interventions, as well as activities that needed to be modified, expanded or introduced for the prevention, mitigation and response to COVID-19. This mapping exercise informed the development of a COVID-19 addendum to the HRP, launched in July, which sought an additional $142 million to the initial HRP funding envelope of $520 million to scale up prioritized COVID-19 prevention and response activities.

Centrality of protection
Protection remained a cross-cutting humanitarian priority in Iraq in 2020 and was embedded throughout inter-sectoral response. This included, inter alia, advocacy at all levels to protect the rights of, and promote solutions for, people with perceived affiliation with extremist groups; strengthened engagements with authorities to facilitate unhindered, principled humanitarian assistance; and the establishment of the Accountability to Affected Populations (AAP)/Communications with Communities (CwC) Working Group as a streamlined coordination mechanism and inter-agency knowledge-sharing and collaboration platform. In parallel, humanitarian clusters and partners strived to ensure that needs assessments, implementation and monitoring considered the input, concerns and feedback of affected populations, and that questions and grievances were addressed with strong data management and effective twoway communications.

Security and access constraints
Iraq is subject to social, ethnic, religious and sectarian tensions between and among Sunni and Shia Muslims, Arabs and Kurds, and other minority groups. Tensions between external actors play out among proxies and add to the uncertain operating context. Insecurity remained constant throughout much of the country in 2020, marked by a resurgence in ISIL-initiated attacks.

While many parts of the country were no longer inaccessible due to conflict, the proliferation of security actors led to an uncertain operating environment for humanitarian organizations. Checkpoints could be controlled by parties only loosely affiliated with the national government, or who did not adhere to previously agreed-upon access procedures, requiring a multitude of additional, and often changing, access letters. At the end of 2019, the Governmental mechanism for authorizing national level access to NGOs, including UN implementing partners, was suspended and did not function between January until October 2020. In the absence of viable alternative mechanisms, these restrictions hindered many NGO partners’ access to their project sites and slowed down critical operations.

Humanitarian access in Iraq was further constrained in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting curfews and movement restrictions imposed by the authorities from mid-March. Inter-governorate movements were largely prohibited, hampering partners’ ability to reach project sites or move critical supplies across governorates or regions. While these containment measures were necessary to curtail and slow the spread of the disease, they compounded the already significant administrative access challenges faced by humanitarian organizations in Iraq, affecting the delivery of assistance both to address pre-existing humanitarian needs and to respond to the emerging needs triggered by the pandemic. OCHA maintained constant advocacy with the government counterparts to facilitate access for humanitarian actors so that they could implement prioritized activities even during COVID-19 movement restrictions.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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