Eight million people are estimated to be in need of immediate assistance as a consequence of the Iraq humanitarian crisis. Amongst them, 4 million are reported to be displaced and over 4 million people were considered as food insecure inside Iraq in 2005, when the overall situation was not as bad as it is today.
The humanitarian situation has arisen as a combination of degraded basic services, loss of livelihoods and rampant inflation which have increased the vulnerability of the people. While the situation is not consistent across the country, the affected population also faces escalating violence, human rights violations and a crisis of protection all of which contribute to a downward spiralling emergency. At the same time the increase in violence has severely constrained humanitarian space, and relief provisions have all but ceased.
The clear implication is that humanitarian assistance is needed in Iraq immediately. Political resolution to the causes of the crisis must occur in parallel with assisting the lives and livelihoods of all Iraqis. Even if current conditions do not deteriorate further, humanitarian assistance is nonetheless urgently needed. Recognition of and actions to assist vulnerable communities are in place, but as conditions have worsened, the consistency, frequency, content and quality of assistance has not been able to keep pace.
The implications are that the Government and International Organisations that are embedded within the International Zone, have a limited perception of the situation faced on the ground and have lost the opportunity to access the population and hot spots.
A key element in addressing the humanitarian crises on the ground is for relief and aid agencies to have access to the areas where they are assisting the vulnerable. With growing acknowledgement by the international community that there is indeed a humanitarian crisis in Iraq, this issue take a more important place in the discussions about humanitarian aid in Iraq.
NGOs play a vital role providing support to affected people. NGOs that adhere to the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief, and deliver humanitarian aid, need to distinguish themselves from other types of agencies emphasizing their neutrality and impartiality. Currently, NGOs have adapted to the current climate of distrust and uncertainty in Iraq by being very conservative in the information they share and in being careful with whom they are publicly associated with in Iraq.
NGOs engaged in the changing landscape of Iraq, use their mandates, charters and the above-mentioned Code of conduct as reference points to guide and adapt their actions. The ability to respond however is often constrained by a lack of neutral and flexible funding that supports their core functions as opposed to definite actions anchored to a specific budget line. Furthermore, the withdrawal of some donors and limited funds from other sources, for the humanitarian assistance provided by many NGOs may significantly decrease the number of active NGOs, in spite of the evident acute humanitarian needs.
Coordination mechanisms serve a vital role in the humanitarian context, providing opportunities for NGOs to maintain their independence, and when needed, to use a coordination platform and the perception of non-affiliation with organisations that can compromise their efforts within communities and the safety of their staff and aid workers. At the same time, it allows for a pooling of information and a stage from which it can be conveyed in a coherent manner to the appropriate audience. Furthermore, it can facilitate the identification of gaps in aid assistance and better responses.
In order to better answer to these needs, NGOs have activated a field-based emergency network that will improve the quality of aid response by centralising and securing information on existing networks, improving field linkages, and easing aid workers access.
In the short term, there appears to be no way to address the protection vacuum in much of Iraq. MNF-I and Iraqi Security Forces are incapable of protecting civilians, while the Iraqi authorities cannot access many of those in needs. At the same time, the rule of law, governance, and macro-economic improvement cannot be tackled by humanitarian actors seeking to respond to emergency needs.
However, there are urgent needs to which humanitarian actors can address and ways in which they can do so, at a local level, through micro-approaches within global and flexible strategies. Humanitarian actors have obligations to uphold the rights of the people of Iraq to receive adequate humanitarian assistance through the provision of adequate shelter and resources including food rations and nutritional supplements, clean water, and the provision of medical attention to those who are injured or sick. Humanitarian actors can also play a vital role as advocates about the needs and situation of the people of Iraq.
Therefore, NGOs in Iraq make a range of recommendations which include the need to acknowledge the gravity of the humanitarian crisis inside Iraq and its challenges, as well as its impact on the civilian population and give increased support to NGOs, as neutral and impartial key actors on the ground; the need to address the humanitarian needs inside Iraq; to ensure that International Humanitarian Law is always and fully respected; to achieve a more coordinated, flexible and locally-based humanitarian response; to find an acceptable route to provide a legal status to Iraqi refugees and acknowledge the equal responsibility to engage and assist with the host countries and to illustrate that it is still possible to address humanitarian needs inside Iraq through community and locally-based, flexible and adapted approaches.