The humanitarian crisis in Iraq remains one of the largest and most volatile in the world. The pace of displacement over the past three years is nearly without precedent. In 2014, over 2.5 million civilians were displaced in Iraq; in 2015, more than an additional 1 million were forced to flee. During the past year, nearly 700,000 people in areas impacted by the conflict with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have been newly displaced. Every one of the nine major military campaigns during 2016 has created new displacement. Over 3 million Iraqis are currently displaced, living in 3,700 locations across the country; more than one million displaced and refugees are in the Kurdistan Region. In 2017, depending on the intensity and length of fighting in Mosul, Hawiga and Tel Afar, as many as 1.1 million additional civilians may be forced from their homes.
More people are vulnerable now than at any time during the recent conflict. Three years of continuous conflict and economic stagnation have impacted nearly every aspect of Iraqi society. Poverty rates in Kurdistan have doubled and unemployment has trebled in many communities. Payrolls for government employees have been cut or delayed. Agricultural production has declined by 40 per cent, undermining the country’s food sufficiency, and hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to migrate to urban areas for jobs and support. e number of health consultations performed in health clinics has increased eightfold and around 23 hospitals and more than 230 primary health facilities have been damaged or destroyed. Schools in the governorates impacted by ISIL are forced to convene three sequential sessions to cope with the increased number of students. Nearly 3.7 million school-aged Iraqi children attend school irregularly, or not at all, and more than 765,000 displaced children have missed an entire year of education.
The humanitarian situation is expected to worsen until families are able to re-establish their livelihoods and consolidate their households. Although military gains against ISIL are expected in the early part of the year, measurable improvements in humanitarian conditions are likely to be registered only late in 2017. In many sectors, improvement is not expected until well into 2018. Based on assessments conducted in the last months of 2016, 3.2 million people are currently food insecure, forced to rely on severe and often irreversible coping strategies. Inter-agency and cluster assessments con rm that 9.7 million people require health care, 8.7 million protection support and 6.3 million water and sanitation. About 3.9 million people need shelter and household goods while 3.7 million children need education support. Social tensions are expected to impact at least 5.2 million people.
Iraqi civilians in conflict areas are in extreme danger.
Families in Mosul, Hawiga and Tel Afar, and other districts under the control of ISIL, face some of the gravest threats in the Middle East. Civilians risk being caught in cross-fire and are subjected to bombardment; they face execution, abduction, rape, looting, detention and expulsion. Thousands of people are already caught between the front lines of opposing forces and tens of thousands more may become trapped in the months ahead. Civilians being screened are fearful of mistreatment, and sectarian violence, although localized, threatens to destabilize embattled communities. For more than three years, hundreds of thousands of men, women, girls and boys have been brutalized by violence, denied access to safety and basic services, and subjected to exploitation, harassment, and intimidation. An estimated 3.6 million children in Iraq – one in five – are at serious risk of death, injury, sexual violence, abduction and recruitment into armed groups. e number of reported grave child rights violations increased threefold in the first six months in 2016 compared to the same period in 2015. Millions of Iraqis continue to wrestle with the enormous psychological, emotional and physical impact of the crisis, and are likely to do so for generations.
The operation in Mosul has the potential to be the single largest humanitarian operation in the world in 2017. Over 200,000 people were displaced during fighting in the central and eastern part of the city while more than 550,000 civilians remained in their homes. Partners estimate that 750,000-800,000 civilians are concentrated in the city’s densely populated western sections, where fighting intensified during the first quarter of 2017. Nearly every accessible family, whether displaced or resident in their homes, is vulnerable. Without emergency support, these families will be unable to survive. Conditions in retaken areas are di cult. Buildings and infrastructure are damaged, services have been cut, supplies are irregular and many areas are contaminated by explosive hazards. Families who opt to stay in their homes require life-saving food support, water, health care and specialized protection assistance. Displaced families, once they have been screened and reached an emergency site or camp, require comprehensive emergency assistance including shelter, food, water, sanitation, household items, health care, education and specialized protection. During the first four months of the military campaign, over 1 million vulnerable people in and out of camps have been reached with emergency response packages containing food, water and hygiene items within 48 hours of areas being retaken.
The Iraqi Security Forces have adopted a humanitarian concept of operations putting civilian protection at the centre of their military strategy for Mosul. During the early stages of the military campaign, security forces asked civilians to remain in their homes, promising that every e ort will be made to protect them. By mid-December, with observers predicting a longer and more di cult battle than expected, Government and humanitarians were forced to envision the possibility of a prolonged siege of the city, widespread hunger and the impact on civilians of a lack of water and medical care during the intensely cold winter months.
More than one million Iraqis have returned to their homes in the last year; up to 3-4 million may be outside their homes when anti-ISIL military operations conclude. The conditions facing returning families vary enormously. Some return areas are contaminated by explosive hazards. Public infrastructure and private housing have been destroyed and damaged in at least half of all retaken areas. Essential services are available in only some districts and there are very few employment opportunities until local economies start to take off. Many families expect compensation. Acts of retaliation continue to fuel social tensions, particularly in communities where local populations are perceived as having supported ISIL. Efforts by local authorities to move families to their original homes, even if conditions for safe, voluntary, dignified returns are not yet in place, are expected to accelerate as soon as ISIL is expelled from Mosul, Hawiga and Tel Afar.
An impressive national effort involving the Government, civil society and countless communities has been mounted to address the humanitarian crisis. For three years, the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government have provided aid, coordinated assistance and helped to secure the safety of populations who need assistance. e people of Iraq have welcomed displaced families into their homes and communities and local groups and religious organizations have worked tirelessly to provide shelter, care and support. Overwhelmed by the scale and complexity of the crisis, the Government has reached out to humanitarian partners, seeking help to provide emergency aid and protection to newly displaced families, support populations during their displacement, and help families to return to their homes when conditions are safe.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.