Iraq: ICRC activities in October 2008

The security situation having improved in Iraq recently, more people have access to health services and clean water. However too many Iraqis are still compelled to drink contaminated water and live in unhygienic conditions. Water, sanitation and health care remain the ICRC's primary concerns in the country.

The governments of Iraq and Iran, plus the ICRC, signed a memorandum of understanding in Geneva on 16 October aimed at clarifying the fate of people missing in connection with the 1980-1988 war. The document establishes a clear framework for collecting information on missing persons, sharing it between the two countries and handing over human remains. Experts from the two countries will perform these tasks jointly, with ICRC support.

The situation in Iraq has improved somewhat in recent months, in terms both of security and of essential services. "More people now have access to health services and clean water. But far too many Iraqis still have no choice but to drink dirty water and live in insalubrious conditions," said Juan-Pedro Schaerer, the ICRC's head of delegation for Iraq. "This leads to more sick people seeking treatment in a health-care system already stretched to the limit."

Water, sanitation and health care remain the ICRC's primary concerns. This year alone, four million people have benefited from ICRC repairs to water and sanitation systems, clinics and hospitals. The organization's water and sanitation experts are helping the authorities to repair and maintain pumping stations that supply hundreds of thousands of people with clean drinking water. The ICRC is also delivering drugs and surgical dressing materials to hospitals and primary health care centres all over the country.

Improving water infrastructure

The ICRC has completed a full overhaul of Khabat water treatment plant, located at the borders of Erbil, Dohuk and Ninawa governorates. This facility now provides water to some 50,000 people living in the three governorates. The operation involved renovating equipment used for all stages of water treatment, together with pumps and storage tanks. In addition, new pumps were installed at the plant.

The ICRC built a new well in Um Gseer (Hawija District, Kirkuk governorate), providing safe water to more than 3,000 people who previously had to pump water directly from the nearby irrigation canal.

In Zummar district, Ninawa governorate, 8,000 people who used to depend on water trucking now have access to a regular supply of safe water, as the ICRC has completed renovation of a compact water treatment unit on the Tigris River with a capacity of 100 cubic metres per hour, and a 2 km connection to the village of Tal Al Thahab.

The ICRC also continued to respond to the threat of cholera by replacing aluminium sulphate and chlorination devices in six compact water treatment units (Al Shuhada New, Al Shuhada Old and Jbail in Fallujah district, Anbar governorate plus Al Haidari, Al Taliaa Old and Al Taliaa New serving Taliaa in Al Hashemiya District, Babil governorate) thus improving water quality for 50,000 people.

Medical seminars

In late October, over 90 doctors and paramedics from all over Iraq attended ICRC seminars in Sulaymaniya.

The emergency room trauma course for surgeons and general practitioners aimed to familiarize doctors working in an emergency room with a standardized approach to trauma patients. The advanced first aid course for trainers of ministry of health paramedics focused on the differences between ordinary injuries and war wounds and raised participants' awareness of their rights and duties in time of armed conflict. The third seminar, on war surgery, was attended by 46 surgeons from hospitals all over the country. Its objectives were to show younger surgeons how to treat mine injuries and fractures, and to provide an opportunity for ICRC and Iraqi surgeons to exchange experiences.

"Hospitals in Iraq are dealing with casualties under difficult circumstances," said ICRC surgeon Chris Giannou during the workshop. "They often lack drugs, equipment, suitable infrastructure and experienced staff. Supporting hospitals and emergency medical services by providing surgical supplies and adequate equipment is important, but not enough. That is why training for medical staff remains a priority. Today, medical teams still put their lives at risk in the line of duty, even though international humanitarian law is supposed to protect them from deliberate attack. Enhanced awareness of the obligation to protect medical services could help save the lives of doctors and nurses and make their work easier."

Visiting people deprived of their freedom

The ICRC stepped up its efforts to visit places of detention under Iraqi authority. In Basra governorate, its delegates visited detention facilities run by the ministry of justice and the ministry of defence, while in northern Iraq they visited Fort Suse federal prison in Sulaymaniya governorate. During these visits, the ICRC assessed the conditions of detention and the treatment of almost 2,000 people deprived of their freedom. In addition, delegates carried out the second visit in 2008 to the Iraqi High Tribunal where they met a number of detainees.

In October, the ICRC carried out eight visits to detention facilities under the authority of Asayesh (Kurdish Security forces) in Erbil, Sulaymaniya and Dohuk governorates.

Renovation of irrigation canals in Dakat and Qarahanjir

Farmers receiving seed and fertilizer in Tal'a village, Diwaniya governate =A9ICRC Like most people in rural areas, the residents of Dakat in Khanaqin district and Qarahanjir in Kirkuk governorate depend on farming and livestock breeding as their main sources of revenue. Irrigation canals allow farmers to grow crops all year round, to diversify production and to increase the area cultivated. The recent severe drought in these areas has made the canals even more important as a source of water, but a lack of maintenance meant they could not be used to full capacity.

Working with local authorities and communities, the ICRC designed and implemented a project to repair the irrigation canals, by cleaning spring intakes and removing reeds, sludge, stones and rubbish. The goal is to help farmers regain their economic independence by increasing food production and household income. The project was completed in late October, benefiting nearly 800 families in Dakat and Qarahanjir. Improved irrigation now allows farmers to cultivate more land and to diversify crops. For the first time in years, they were able to grow rice, a valuable cash crop. One farmer told the ICRC that "thanks to the repairs, my fields were not flooded after last night's heavy rain" while another added that "we are now able to stay in our village and continue cultivating our land. Otherwise, with the severe drought, we would have had no other choice than to migrate to the city in search of odd jobs."

Supporting farmers in Tal'a village, Diwaniya

Farming provides 80 per cent of the income in Tal'a (Hamza district, Diwaniya governorate). In this area, farmers mainly grow wheat as a winter crop and rice as a summer crop.

The Iraqi government used to subsidize agriculture. This is no longer the case, and the loss of subsidies is making life difficult for farmers. The costs of seed, fertilizer, fuel and handling have all increased. Lack of capital has obliged farmers to reduce the area cultivated, use lower quality inputs and sell livestock.

In October, at the onset of the sowing season, 98 families in Tal'a received seed and fertilizer to help them increase wheat production. In addition to grain, wheat provides straw for animal fodder, encouraging households to continue livestock breeding.

The project aims to improve food security and increase household income by boosting agricultural productivity.