Iraq Humanitarian Needs Overview (February 2021)

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Summary of Changes
October 2020 to 18 January 2021

After the needs assessments and analysis underpinning this Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) concluded in early October 2020, the Government of Iraq (GoI) announced it would close all camps hosting internally displaced people by the end of the year. From mid-October 2020 to the time of HNO publication in mid-January 2021, 14 formal IDP camps in areas under GoI administration were closed, consolidated or reclassified as informal sites. As a result, 25 per cent (or 65,000) of the people whose needs are presented in this HNO as “in-camp IDPs” were no longer living in camps at the time of publication. In line with the trends observed since October 2020, some 43,000 are assumed to have become returnees and 22,000 out-of-camp IDPs.

In November 2020, the Humanitarian Country Team discussed how to reflect these changes in the 2021 HNO. The data and analysis that underpin the HNO are the product of months of rigorous work at the inter-sectoral and sector-specific levels. As they are interlinked, to change one figure would require a recalculation of all figures, in order to maintain the integrity of the data and analysis. To do this would require a full reset of the entire process and another four months of work, without any guarantee that the final analysis of needs would be significantly different.

The HCT determined that it was best to present the HNO using the data as of early October 2020 to keep the detailed analysis coherent throughout the document. However, the HCT also viewed it as important to reflect the significant changes that had occurred in late 2020. This “Summary of Changes” document does just that.

Camp Closures and Reclassification

Between October 2020 and mid-January 2021, 14 formal IDP camps closed or were reclassified into informal sites by the GoI. Two informal sites – Al-Ishaqi and Al-Shams – were also closed. The 14 formal camps, which were closed or reclassified, include one in Al-Anbar, three in Baghdad, three in Diyala, one in Kerbala, two in Kirkuk, three in Ninewa and one camp in Salah Al-Din. The closure of the Salamiyah camp in Ninewa Governorate on 12 January 2021 was the most recent camp closure.

Four camps remain open in federal Iraq, hosting close to 12,000 IDPs. Closures were also announced for these camps in the last quarter of 2020 but subsequently put on hold. However, reports continue to be received of the possible closure of the two largest camps that remain open in federal Iraq, namely Ameriyat Al-Fallujah (AAF) in Al-Anbar, hosting some 2,800 people, and Jad’ah 5 in Ninewa, hosting some 8,600 people. However no concrete timeframe has been given. The two other camps under the administration of federal Iraq are Latifyah camps 1 and 2 in Baghdad; no specific information on their closing has been received.

Of the 29 camps still open at the time of writing, 25 are in areas administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). These camps shelter approximately 180,000 IDPs, and are not expected to close imminently.

Population Figure Changes

From August 2020 to mid-January 2021, the number of IDPs residing in camps decreased by about 65,000 people, leaving around 192,000 people living in 29 formal camps in seven governorates at the time of publication. This reduction in the camp population includes departures due to camp closures, but also other more voluntary or spontaneous camp departures, which occurred at the same time. The figures also reflect other ongoing population movements, including movements between camps and new arrivals from non-camp settings or return areas, linked to failed return attempts.

IOM-DTM traced some 33,300 individuals affected by camp closures as they arrived across eight governorates in Iraq, between 18 October 2020 and 17 January 2021. Most people arrived in Ninewa (18,700 people), followed by Kirkuk (4,600 people) and Diyala (4,300 people) Governorates. The remaining 5,700 people arrived in Anbar, Baghdad, Erbil, Kerbala, and Salah Al-Din Governorates. Some 3,300 people continued to be on the move at the time of writing.

Approximately 30 per cent (an estimated 10,300 people) of those affected by camp closure and traced as of 17 January 2020 by IOM-DTM, have not returned to their location of origin and are now secondarily displaced, while the remaining 70 per cent (23,000 people) have returned to their respective village or neighbourhood of origin and are now counted by the IOM-DTM as returnees. These percentages are in line with previous population movements due to camp closures, and when extrapolated to all those who have departed camps since October would indicate that 22,000 previous in-camp IDPs have become IDPs displaced in out-of-camp locations, while 43,000 have become returnees.

Impact of 2020 Camp Closures on Humanitarian Needs Analysis

While the camp closures have led to some adjustments to the population figures across the different categories (in-camp IDPs, out-of-camp IDPs, and returnees), the overall number of people in need, the drivers of need, and the specific types of needs experienced by each group, remain unchanged by the camp closures. The analysis presented in this HNO remains valid, and the needs emerging among the newly affected coherent within.

Similar to the tens of thousands of IDPs and returnees whose needs were assessed and analyzed in this HNO, the people departing camps with little or no notice are likely to find it difficult to start a safe and dignified life when faced with a lack of income, documentation and shelter; unable to meet basic food needs; and exposed to serious protection risks resulting from discrimination, marginalization and even physical harm on return to areas of origin. According to follow up surveys, people having recently departed camps cited shelter, livelihoods and food as their top priority needs. These are largely the same as the top priority issues flagged by the population groups whose needs were analyzed in the current HNO. More than half of the surveyed households who have departed camps since October 2020 reported not having access to enough food to meet their basic needs, while close to a quarter said they had no income since leaving the camp. This is comparable to the socio-economic situation of IDPs and returnees highlighted in the HNO in September 2020 when the unemployment rate was found to be at 19 per cent, and over two thirds of IDPs and half of all returnee households were estimated to be unable to meet basic needs, including food needs.

Furthermore, about one-fifth of families who agreed to be contacted after camp departure, were now living in critical shelters, including in tents, makeshift shelters, or unfinished or damaged buildings, while a quarter of families reportedly feared eviction. Considering that only 11 per cent among out-of-camp IDPs and four per cent among returnees were identified by the HNO as living in critical shelters, it seems that ending up in critical shelters is more widespread, at least temporarily, among those affected by the recent wave of camp closures.

Beyond shelter, food and livelihoods needs, some 13 per cent reported missing civil documentation; this is below the national average found for the population groups covered in the HNO. Many more among those recently departing camps reported having at least one family member unable to access needed medical assistance (41 per cent), not having regular access to enough drinking water (37 per cent), and insufficient access to hygiene items (55 per cent). These findings are similar to those identified in the current HNO, where some 45 per cent of IDPs indicated that none or not all members of their communities had access to health care, while approximately half of all IDPs out-of-camp and half of all returnees reported severe water, sanitation and hygiene needs or poor water quality in areas of return.

As with other IDPs and returnees whose barriers to return were analyzed for this HNO, the lack of housing due to destruction, damage or occupation by other persons; communal tensions and lack of acceptance; and local security constraints are among the primary barriers to return also for the recently departed IDPs. Swift closures have further narrowed the possibility for many to find adequate temporary solutions especially as reduced livelihoods, job loss and income cuts often happen when moving to a new location. Some families affected by the 2020 camp closures have had no other option but to seek re-entry to the closed camps or new entry into other camps, including those in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, with varying degrees of success. This is not a new trend seen only among those affected by the recent closures, as some families affected by closures in 2019 undertook similar actions, but it is all the more visible now due to the diminishing number of camps where such families with no other options can go.

Summary of Humanitarian Needs and Key Findings

Context, Shocks/Events and Impact of the Crisis

Three years after the end of formal military operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the humanitarian context in Iraq remains fragile, characterized by protracted internal displacement; eroded national social cohesion; extensive explosive ordnance threatening internally displaced persons (IDPs), returnees and communities; and incomplete rehabilitation of housing, basic services and livelihoods opportunities. Although significant reconstruction has been completed in the five governorates most severely affected by military operations against ISIL, durable solutions have not yet been secured for about 40 per cent of the 6.1 million Iraqis displaced from 2014-2017. More than one million Iraqis remain internally displaced; spontaneous returns remain slow in most areas and are often unsustainable due to unresolved barriers in areas of origin. Two out of five Iraqis who have returned home still do not have adequate housing, economic self-sufficiency, or access to basic services or other conditions essential to durable solutions.

Against this backdrop, the COVID-19 pandemic and drop in oil prices in early 2020 increased socioeconomic vulnerabilities across the country, 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, disruption of public services and other measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. As a result, reliance on negative coping mechanisms and psychological trauma, stress and anxiety have increased.

Basic services in displacement and return locations— including health care, education, water and sanitation, and legal services—were already inadequate 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. The arrival of IDPs affected by camp closures, which the Government of Iraq (GoI) resumed in October 2020, also increased the pressure on scarce services in out-of-camp and return locations.

The closure of most IDP camps in areas under GoI administrative control in the fall of 2020 led to increased population movements, including forced evictions, premature returns and secondary displacement. In many areas of origin, conditions were not conducive to sustainable returns. At the time of writing, population movements resulting from the closures were ongoing.

Scope of Analysis

The 2021 Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) focuses on the humanitarian needs of the people displaced by ISIL attacks and the military operations to defeat them. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the broader Iraqi population was assessed and analyzed in the process of developing the 2021 HNO, however, was not found to have crossed emergency thresholds at the time of writing. Humanitarian organizations will continue to monitor COVID-19 impacts in 2021.

Public health measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 challenged primary data collection from IDPs and returnees in 2020. To ensure the representativeness, quality and depth of data, assessment partners relied on remote household-level data collection and key informant interviews to ensure data was collected safely and in line with established protocols. An extensive secondary data review complemented these assessments.

Humanitarian Conditions, Severity and People in Need

Of the 6 million people displaced during the conflict, 4.7 million have returned to areas of origin, while 1.3 million people remain displaced. Across the country, 4.1 million IDPs and returnees continue to have humanitarian needs related to their physical and mental well-being, living standards and coping capacities.

The overall number of people affected by the ISIL crisis has not changed substantially since 2017, however, the number of IDPs and returnees in acute need has increased significantly over the past year. Needs and vulnerabilities have deepened, specifically for out-of-camp IDPs and returnees. Some 2.4 million people are now in acute need, compared to 1.8 million people in 2020. The proportion of out-of-camp IDPs in acute need increased from 36 per cent to 45 per cent year-on-year, while the proportion of returnees with acute needs increased from 28 per cent to 38 per cent. Loss of employment, accrual of debt and increased expenditure on food are the main drivers of this increase.

Expected Evolution

The government-led closure and consolidation of IDP camps and informal sites is expected to continue in 2021, spurring further population movement, resulting in some unsustainable returns and secondary displacement. As more people may arrive in areas lacking adequate shelter, basic services, livelihood opportunities, social cohesion and safety, the number of out-of-camp IDPs and returnees in acute need is expected to increase. Humanitarian partners will continue to monitor population movements and resulting humanitarian needs, as well as the vulnerabilities of the wider population, as the impacts of COVID-19 continue to affect the country.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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