Iraq + 1 more

Iraq: Humanitarian Needs Overview 2019 (November 2018)


Humanitarian needs & key figures

The humanitarian context in Iraq has transitioned into a new phase. Although Iraq is currently in a post-conflict landscape after the end of military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), there are unpredictable dynamics throughout the country, impacting humanitarian programming. Asymmetric attacks by armed groups continue to be carried out along with small scale military operations, resulting in new displacement and impacting the IDP return rate. In tandem, new sources of instability are also emerging linked to rising poverty rates, delays in community reconciliation, lack of livelihood opportunities, and political and social tensions which cause small-scale new displacement.

Over the last programming cycle, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) returning to their areas of origin has reached 4 million, while approximately 2 million remain displaced. Although major efforts are underway to rebuild the country and jumpstart local economies, significant barriers to return endure, including security concerns, fear and trauma; lack of social cohesion; issues related to documentation; lack of livelihoods; and destroyed or damaged housing. As return rates level out, protracted displacement and the sustainability of returnees are concerns which need to be addressed, as a growing number of Iraqis are forced to make increasingly negative or high-risk choices in order to cope. With protracted displacement expected to endure in 2019, humanitarian assistance must continue targeting IDPs both in-camp and in out-of-camp settings. Special attention is needed for individuals with perceived affiliations to extremist groups, who are often subjected to stigma from their communities, discrimination and are often barred from returning home. Overall, an estimated 6.7 million people in Iraq, including 3.3 million children (under age 18) and 3.3 million women and girls, continue to need some form of humanitarian assistance and protection.


Protection remains the overarching humanitarian priority for 2019. The importance of safe, voluntary, informed, dignified and sustainable return of displaced people cannot be overestimated if Iraq is to thrive in a post-ISIL context. Multiple pressing protection concerns remain, including retaliation against people with perceived affiliations to extremist groups; ethno-sectarian violence; forced, premature and obstructed returns; a lack of civil documentation; IDPs and returnees who require specialized psychosocial support; high UXO contamination of land (including private houses); and housing, land and property issues. Incursions and intimidation by armed security actors continue to be recorded both in-camp and in informal settlements: 87 violations were reported from January to August 2018 across Iraq, affecting over 10,000 individuals.1 Women and children continue to be exposed to multiple protection risks; child labour and child marriage among IDP and returnee children is more prevalent than in recent years, while over 10 per cent of children are reported to experience psychosocial distress.

Displaced people in-camp and out-of-camp settings continue to depend on the provision of humanitarian assistance to meet their basic needs, despite significant ongoing efforts to re-open schools, establish health centres, and restore electricity, water and sewage grids. Camp services and infrastructure must be scaled up and improved in order to meet minimum standards and serve the 482,000 displaced people living in 135 camps. At the same time, at least 155,000 IDPs living in critical shelters3 remain severely underserved and may resort to negative coping strategies to survive.

Challenges to secure livelihood opportunities are among the top three needs cited by both people in displacement and people who have returned to their areas of origin. Difficulties in accessing employment and livelihoods limits the possibility for IDPs to obtain shelter, food and essential non-food items; it can also impede returnees in securing services including health, utilities and education. Of those able to be credibly assessed, it is estimated that 24 per cent of IDP families are using emergency negative coping mechanisms to address their most basic needs, including children dropping out of school to work, criminal acts, child marriage and forced marriage. More than 60 per cent of the affected people surveyed reported incurring debt, the majority for meeting basic needs; the average amount of debt per household is 2.2 million IQD (equivalent of US$ 1,800).4 The situation is critical in several districts, including Mosul, where 80 per cent of youth between 18 and 25 are currently unemployed.


As the humanitarian crisis enters its fifth year, Iraq continues to face immense challenges. There are 6.7 million people (18 per cent of the total population) in need of humanitarian assistance. An estimated 4.5 million people face protection concerns. Almost 2 million people remain displaced, over half of whom have been displaced for more than three years, making the prospect of protracted displacement real and warranting a whole-of-system approach to respond to their needs and work toward durable solutions.

Years of intensive combat operations have left an enormous human toll; cumulatively, 6 million people have been displaced since the beginning of the crisis in 2014. While significant efforts are underway to restore life in newly accessible areas, it will take years to rebuild Iraq. According to the Government of Iraq and the World Bank, almost 138,0001 residential buildings were impacted by the conflict. Approximately half of these structures have been destroyed beyond repair, conservatively affecting more than 400,000 people who may not be able to return until their dwellings have been rebuilt.2 Of those who returned in 2018, 11 per cent3 returned to areas with high or very high severity of conditions (indicating a lack of livelihoods, services, social cohesion and security). Nearly 2.4 million people are vulnerable to food insecurity; 5.5 million people require health care; 4.5 million people need protection support; 2.3 million people require water and sanitation assistance; 2.6 million children require access to education and 2.3 million people are in need of shelter and non-food items. A total of 797 Iraqi civilians were killed and another 1,463 injured in acts of terrorism, violence and armed conflict in the first nine months of 2018.

Vulnerable people are faced with multiple humanitarian needs that are expected to intensify until families can rebuild their lives and achieve sustainable solutions. The poverty rate in the areas most impacted by military operations against ISIL exceeds 40 per cent, in comparison to the already-high 22.5 per cent in the rest of the country.5 In the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, the poverty rate increased from 3.5 per cent to 12.5 per cent, as a result of a large influx of IDPs from other parts of Iraq starting in 2014.6 Household assets have been significantly diminished and multi-dimensional poverty has reached 23 per cent amongst IDPs, while asset poverty has reached 70 per cent.7 A total of 60 per cent of people in need have insufficient income to meet their basic needs and 34 per cent are assuming debt to purchase essential items.8 In areas of displacement—especially the northern governorates which host a large proportion of IDPs—rent prices are increasing, negatively affecting IDPs, host community and returnees.9 While markets are largely functioning, additional tariffs imposed at the newly established custom points on the Kirkuk-Erbil and Kirkuk-Sulaymaniyah roads have continued to destabilize market prices in Kirkuk governorate. When taken as a whole, these statistics suggest a possible ‘double crisis’ for vulnerable people who are suffering from increased poverty on top of the impact of years of conflict.

The resilience and coping capacity of displaced people has been remarkable, but are increasingly exhausted especially for those in protracted displacement. Almost 2 million people remain displaced, of which over half have been displaced for more than three years. A significant majority of displaced people (71 per cent) reside outside of camps, mostly within the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and Ninewa governorate. These 2 million IDPs are relatively evenly split between being displaced within their governorates of origin (49 per cent) and in other governorates (51 per cent). Access to employment/livelihood opportunities continues to be the main concern of IDPs.10 Displaced people cited difficulty of accessing food (51 per cent), household and non-food items (66 per cent) and shelter (42 per cent) as their other main concerns.

The scope and scale of years of conflict have affected population groups differently, with some at greater risk than others. An estimated 13 per cent of all IDP and returnee households are headed by females and they are at heightened risk of gender-based violence.12 Seven districts have between 22 - 34 per cent of families where the head of household has a disability that affects the person’s ability to perform daily living activities.13 In 2019, an estimated 2.1 million children may be at serious risk of not being able to access essential services due to lack of civil documentation; they may also face discrimination, psychological distress, domestic violence, child labour, and sexual violence including child marriage. Ninewa, Kirkuk, Salah alDin and Anbar governorates show the highest number of conflict-affected children at risk.14 During the first nine months of 2018, there were 156 incidents of grave child rights violations, including 57 children killed and 70 children maimed.15 Persons with perceived affiliation to extremist groups are at heightened risk of violence, exploitation, discrimination and a range of human rights violations.

As communities cope with the aftermath of the conflict, limited access to social protection programmes impact the abject poor and erode community resilience. Access to relevant social protection networks, including the monthly public distribution system (PDS) ration system and the Cash Transfer Social Protection Programme of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MoLSA),17 remains challenging for both displaced people and returnees. Obstacles include a lack of necessary civil documentation for enrolment in social programmes, inadequate assessment capacity of the authorities and complicated registration procedures. While the people of Iraq welcomed displaced families into their homes and communities, the scale and complexity of the crisis has overwhelmed the resilience of some host communities, particularly in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, where there are worrying levels of unemployment and deteriorating public services.


UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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