153 shocking days
153 days ago, the UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon finally announced a Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq. For UN Agencies, NGOs and most observers of the Iraqi situation, this announcement was a long time coming, and the intervening time before the announcement was a long and difficult one for the Iraqi vulnerable.
According to UNHCR statements 50,000 people are displaced every month, meaning that since Mr. Ban Ki-Moon's announcements, an additional 1 quarter million Iraqis have been displaced.
According to the latest figures stating that about 100 Iraqis are killed every day, approximately 15,000 more Iraqis would have been killed since the announcement. If we consider the figures on excess deaths given by the now widely recognized John Hopkins and Al-Mustansiriya University's survey published one year ago in the Lancet, it would mean 83,438 additional deaths over the past 5 months. Assuming that the situation is at the same level of violence as during the 2003-2006 period. Since the beginning of the war, the cost of war incurred just by the US1 has been in excess of USD 436 billions. This means USD 280 million per day. It means that since Mr. Ban's announcement more than USD 4 billion. During the same period, how much has been pledged for refugees abroad? How much has been allocated to respond to the humanitarian crisis inside the country?
What has been done over these past five months to respond to the on-going crisis, above and beyond what was already in place before the announcement? Was the International Community so slow to deploy and respond to the Lebanon Crisis or the Tsunami? Is there any more means provided for aid workers on the ground? Is there more support for suffering Iraqis? With a few notable exceptions, nothing has changed since the announcement. How, under these conditions, can we avoid thinking about the story of the man who while falling down from a tall building was quoted at every floor he passed down as saying : "still not dead yet"?
There have been a few flickers of movement and steps forward as evident in the emergency appeals from UNICEF and IOM, new staff dedicated to emergency response being recruited by agencies, the arrival of OCHA etc... But what is the impact for NGOs, which are amongst the only ones that deliver on the field? To date, there is only one concrete impact for most of NGOs: the number of meetings in Amman has drastically increased. So the latest dilemma for already-overwhelmed NGOs staff in Amman is how to be present at every meeting which concerns their work? How to reconcile these meetings, with the pressures of full-time reporting and monitoring that are needed on the basis of remote programming requests?
More importantly: what about NGOs that are in Iraq? What about those who are taking the risk and delivering but are not, and cannot, be present in these strategy discussions? Of course field reality must be elevated to a primary consideration in order to respect the incredible risks taken by our colleagues in Iraq to deliver, and above all to respect humanitarian principles and the needs of affected populations. What is planned to take their feed back on the needs, their opinion, and the field-reality in consideration?
And most importantly: How long do vulnerable Iraqis have to remain patient? How long do they have to wait before the can expect some concrete support that will make good on promises?
What has changed in Iraq? Some awful figures have been given above. Globally speaking, nothing has changed unless of course you count that the situation is worsening on a daily basis. The humanitarian situation gets worse every hour. Risks for accessing hot areas increase. Brain-drain is expanding. The psychological pressures are incommensurable. A recent survey has shown that 60% of US troops coming back from Iraq suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). What are percentages amongst Iraqis? What are percentages amongst children?
Iraqis are suffering. Some readers might think that we are exaggerating and they may be fed-up with this recurring theme every week. In that case just try for 5 minutes to live like Iraqis do. Cut the electricity. Cut the water. Cut the gas. Wonder if your be-loved will come back from the location where they are at. Put the heater at the maximum to reach the current temperature in central and south Iraq of +50oC. Don't go out. Add fighting sounds, bombings, a fear of being attacked at any moment and distrust of everybody, etc. Then start to wonder why so few new actions are developed to help you. And start to despair. And remember that, for you, it was only five minutes out of your reality.
There are still few windows of opportunity. There are still some foolhardy Iraqis that are trying to support their compatriots. Don't abandon them. They need our concrete support. Concrete support doesn't mean taking 5 months to develop strategies.
Concrete support means floos. Concrete support means actions on the field.
Let's dream. Let's dream that the International Community would centre their interventions and deliberations based on the needs of Iraqi's and in response to their acute suffering. Let's dream that they put their internal agendas, their defensive agendas, their international and domestic disputes and contradictions aside and focus on the needs of the Iraqi people. Let's dream that the next 153 days will show concrete results that respond to the humanitarian crisis.
Why should it remain a dream?