Iraq: Multi-Cluster Needs Assessment (MCNA) - Round VIII, December 2020

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Iraq has suffered from multiple cycles of violence over the past decades, most recently the conflict with the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Post conflict reconstruction has been slow, with toxic remnants of war, unexploded ordnances (UXOs), and debris remaining as some of the many obstacles to rebuild communities. Furthermore, the destruction of infrastructure and basic service provision combined with governance challenges continue to limit access to basic services and state support for vulnerable populations. By the end of 2020, 1.3 million people remained internally displaced, of which approximately 251,765 individuals lived in formal camps and 104,700 individuals resided in informal sites and critical shelters. Furthermore, 4.8 million Iraqis displaced by the conflict have since returned to their areas of origin 235,000 of whom did so in 2020, in part triggered by government-led camp consolidations. Safe and voluntary returns could reportedly not be guaranteed for all households who were living in the formal camps which were being closed, in part due to lacking security clearances, destroyed or occupied property, and local security concerns in some areas of origin. The majority of households remaining in displacement reported not intending to return to their areas of origin, citing damaged property, fear and trauma, and perceived lack of livelihood opportunities in their areas of origin as main reasons. Households’ inability or unwillingness to return to their areas of origin combined with the increasing number of camps being closed down resulted in an increase in the number of households living in informal sites where living conditions are largely precarious. The protracted displacement of over one million people raises concerns about achieving durable solutions for affected populations.

As well as this, irrespective of displacement status, the Iraqi population was severely impacted by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic crisis. The decline in both the demand and price for oil, on which state finances heavily depend, as well as the disruption of the domestic economic activity resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, have pushed the country further into an economic and financial crisis. This added to an already existing political crisis, reflected for example by the continuation of protests calling for government reform, during which 600 people are estimated to have been killed since 2019. Limited capacity to invest in the (rebuilding of) health infrastructure made Iraq insufficiently prepared to respond to a sudden-onset public health emergency, resulting not only in a high infection rate throughout much of 2020 but also in severely reduced access to non-COVID-19 related health care. As such, the outbreak of COVID-19 aggravated the humanitarian conditions and exacerbated previously existing vulnerabilities in health, livelihoods, education, protection, and other areas of wellbeing for large parts of the population.

Against this backdrop of protracted displacement and volatile humanitarian, political, and economic conditions, aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a need for up-to-date, crisis-wide information about affected populations in Iraq to inform the Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) and to support evidence-based decision-making of key humanitarian actors. As such, the Multi-Cluster Needs Assessment (MCNA) provides an overview of the humanitarian conditions through a collaborative exercise of collecting and analysing data on the type, severity, and variance of sectoral and multi-sectoral needs of conflict-affected populations in Iraq. In 2020, the MCNA was conducted for the eighth time in Iraq, in close coordination with the Assessment Working Group (AWG), the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), and the Inter-Cluster Coordination Group (ICCG).

The MCNA is informed by a nationwide household-level survey, for which 9,634 returnees, out of-camp IDP, and in-camp IDP households were interviewed between mid-July and mid-September 2020. This includes 2,547 interviews with IDP households in 40 formal camps throughout Iraq. Due to the serious health risks that COVID-19 posed to both enumerators and respondents, and due to the persisting movement and access restrictions related to government containment measures, data for the MCNA VIII had to be collected through a hybrid of face-to-face and phone-based interviews. In the districts that could be surveyed in-person (24 out of 62), a two-staged stratified cluster sampling approach was employed to ensure that the findings for out of-camp populations in these districts were statistically representative with a level of confidence of 90% and a margin of error of 10%. However, in all IDP camps and districts where health risks and/or movement or access restrictions prevented face-to-face interviews (38 out of 62), a non-probability purposive quota sampling approach with a minimum target of 60 surveys per population group was adopted. Due to the non-randomised sampling methodology, findings in these strata are not statistically representative with a known level of precision and should be considered as indicative only.

Key Findings

The Multi-Sectoral Needs Index (MSNI) functions as a measure of household’s overall severity of humanitarian needs across sectors, based on the maximum severity score identified in each sector. Sectoral severity scores describe the prevalence and degree of needs within a given sector, ranging from severity score 1 (none/minimal severity of needs) to 4 (extreme severity of needs) and subsequent classification of households having a Living Standard Gap (LSG) if a sectoral severity score is at least 3 (severe sectoral needs). In Iraq, nearly all (99%) incamp IDP households, 90% of out of-camp IDP households, and 88% of returnee households were found to have multi-sectoral needs, which means that they were classified as having a LSG in at least one sector. Among households with multi-sectoral needs, 68% of households were classified as having extreme needs (severity score 4), while 21% of households were classified as having severe sectoral needs (severity score 3).

In-camp IDP households were most likely to have needs in three or four sectors simultaneously, while out of-camp IDP and returnee households were more likely to have LSGs in one or two sectors at the time of data collection. The highest proportion of households with extreme multi-sectoral needs (severity score 4) were concentrated in Baghdad (Al Risafa), Kerbala (Al Hindiya), Ninewa (Al Baaj, Al Hatra and Al Shikhan), and Dohuk (Sumail and Al Amadiya). Additional districts in Duhok (Zakho), Ninewa (Sinjar, Al Mosul, and Telafar), Salah Al Din (Beygee and Al Shirqat), and Erbil (Makhmour and Shaqlawa) stand out with a high proportion of households with severe multisectoral needs (severity score 3).

Across population groups, the three most common profiles of one or more sectoral LSGs are sectoral needs in Livelihoods (17%), a combination of sectoral needs in both Livelihoods and Protection (15%), and sectoral needs only in Protection (10%). In-camp IDP households are most likely to have LSGs simultaneously in Shelter and Livelihoods (16%), or simultaneously in Shelter, Livelihoods, Protection and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) (13%). The high percentage of in-camp IDP households with sectoral needs, is largely driven by households with a LSG in Shelter (97%) who reported to live under critical shelter conditions in camps. For out of-camp IDP and returnee households who were found to have sectoral needs, the most typical LSG profile was Livelihoods (25% and 16% respectively), simultaneously in Livelihoods and Protection (12% and 17% respectively), and only in Protection (5% and 12% respectively). LSGs in Livelihoods are common among all population groups, reflecting the limited financial household stability and precarious economic conditions in Iraq. Next to this, and interrelated with sectoral needs in Livelihoods, there is a wide prevalence of Protection needs.

Nearly all (99%) in-camp IDP households were classified as having extreme multi-sectoral needs (MSNI 4), which is largely shaped by the high proportion and severity of in-camp IDP households with a LSG in Shelter, as camp conditions automatically imply that households live under critical shelter conditions. Approximately three quarters of households living in IDP camps were found to have sectoral needs in Livelihoods (74%), shaped in part by the large proportion of households who indicated to be unable to meet basic needs and to have to take on debt to afford food, education, healthcare or basic household expenditures. More than half (58%) of in-camp IDP households were classified as having a LSG in Protection, largely due to households reporting that they are missing key individual or household documentation which serves as a further obstacle to access basic services. Nearly a quarter of in-camp IDP households (24%) were found to have a LSG in Education, indicating that children in these households are insufficiently benefitting from education which is understood as an important factor shaping individual’s ability to successfully (re-)integrate in the economic and social fabric in out of-camp settings. Compared to the out of-camp populations, in-camp IDP households were more likely to have sectoral needs in Health (15%). For nearly half (47%) of these households, the main drivers of these needs were the reported difficulties to access health services in the three months prior to data collection. Despite WASH service provision in camps, nearly half of in-camp IDP households (47%) were classified as having a LSG in WASH, largely shaped by households’ limited access to improved functional sanitation facilities. Indeed, in-camp IDP households reportedly face specific barriers to access basic services beyond those services that are provided within the camp premises, especially in the context of COVID-19 movement restrictions which limited their freedom of movement significantly.

Among IDP households living outside of camps, 90% were classified as having multi-sectoral needs, among which 76% were found to have extreme needs (severity score 4). Out of-camp IDP households were found most likely to have a LSG in Livelihoods (78%), reflecting the high proportion of households who reported a monthly income below 90,000 Iraqi dinar (IQD) per person and households reportedly unable to meet basic needs. Nearly half (47%) of out of-camp IDP households have a LSG in Protection, of which households’ lack of key documentation has significant implications for households’ ability to exercise their civil rights, as well as to access to basic services. Out of-camp IDP households were found to have the highest degree of severe sectoral needs in Education, with 26% of households having a LSG in Education. Among households that reported barriers to education, more than one third (35%) cited cost of education as a key main barrier, reflecting the impact of precarious livelihood conditions. Especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent school closures, a further deterioration in education conditions may be expected. Eight percent of out of-camp IDP households were found to have a LSG in Food Security, of which seven percent was found to have extreme sectoral needs (severity score 4) due to households reporting a lack of food. Additionally, one in five out of-camp IDP households reported spending more than 65% of their total expenditure on food, which leaves little household budget for these households to spend on non-food costs such as rent, education and healthcare.

Among returnee households, 88% of households were classified as having multi-sectoral needs, among whom 64% of households were found to have extreme needs (severity score 4). Similar to out of-camp IDP households, returnee households are most likely to have either one (32%) or two (33%) sectoral LSGs at once, and 16% of them have a LSG in three sectors simultaneously. LSG in Protection had the highest proportion calculated for returnee households (61%), highlighting that many households are faced with a variety of Protection concerns in their areas of origin that likely obstruct comprehensive (re-)integration. Such concerns reported by returnee households include facing movement restrictions (20%), missing key individual or household documentation (57%), and reporting property being under dispute (4%). More than two thirds (65%) of returnee households were found to have a LSG in Livelihoods, reflecting precarious living conditions in many areas of return.

One in five returnee households reported taking on debt to reconstruct or rehabilitate their homes (compared to five percent of out of-camp IDP households reporting this), reflecting an additional strain on returnee households’ resources as a condition to rebuild their lives in their areas of return. In addition, a higher proportion of returnee households reported that all children attended formal or informal education prior to the COVID-19 outbreak (90%), compared to 76% of in-camp and 74% of out of-camp IDP households. The 10% of returned households who reported that at least one child was not attending formal or informal education prior to the COVID-19 outbreak could still represent up to almost half a million returnee households. Almost one in five (19%) of returnee households were found to have a LSG in Shelter, among which four per cent of households reported living under critical shelter conditions Among the out of-camp population, returnee households were found most likely to have a LSG in WASH (14%), among which six percent of households were found to have extreme needs (severity score 4) because of their reported lack of access to an improved water source.

One in five households were classified as having at least one LSG while also having severe or extreme preexisting vulnerabilities, understood as cross-cutting characteristics that are likely to increase households’ exposure to a crisis and/or reduce their coping capacity to respond. Single female-headed households or households with at least one member with a physical and/or mental disability are, for example, classified as having pre-existing vulnerabilities. While such household characteristics do not of itself imply a vulnerability, they tend to influence households’ exposure and/or response capacity as they are linked to social, financial, physical, legal, cultural, or other barriers. The proportion of households who were found to have pre-existing vulnerabilities and at least one LSG was particularly high among IDP households (33% in camp and 28% out of camp), compared to returnee households (18%). With a few exceptions, households who were found to have pre-existing vulnerabilities were more likely to have sectoral LSGs, compared to households without pre-existing vulnerabilities, confirming their increased exposure to the impact of the crisis. Moreover, half of the households with at least one LSG were found to have no pre-existing vulnerabilities, which may imply that the (protracted) crisis is severe enough to result in sectoral needs for many households that would not otherwise have them.

Almost two thirds (63%) of households were found to have at least one LSG and to have a Capacity Gap (CG), which means that despite employing negative coping mechanisms these households have sectoral needs in at least one sector. Employing such negative coping mechanisms – defined in this report as having a CG - include taking on debt to afford basic needs (e.g. food, education, healthcare), relying on humanitarian aid as their primary source of income, or employing crisis or emergency coping strategies to cope with a lack of food or money to buy it (e.g. children dropping out of school, adults engaging in risky behaviour, and reducing non-food expenditure). In-camp IDP households were found to be most likely to have CG and at least one LSG (80%), followed by out of-camp IDP households (73%) and returnee households (59%). Approximately 60,000 households were found to have a CG but no LSG, indicating that they may only be able to meet their needs by relying on harmful and often unsustainable coping strategies. Households employing negative coping strategies may be found to have sectoral needs in the (near) future if unsustainable coping strategies have been exhausted, households are faced with additional pressures, and/or if crisis conditions continue.