Iraq: NCCI's Weekly Highlight 26 Apr 2007



"Humanitarian imperative comes first"

Height million people are estimated to be in need of immediate assistance as a consequence of the Iraq humanitarian crisis. Amongst them, 4 millions 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. As the last UNAMI Human Rights Office report show, the affected population also face escalating violence, human rights violations and a crisis of protection all of which contribute to a spiralling crisis. At the same time the increase in violence has severely constrained humanitarian space, and relief provisions have all but ceased. Obviously, the situation is not consistent across the country.

Iraq is in a crisis of protection, human rights must be observed and protected and basic services must be restored immediately. Political resolution to the causes of the crisis must occur in parallel with assisting the lives and livelihoods of all Iraqis. The clear implication is that humanitarian assistance is needed in Iraq immediately. Even if current conditions did 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 assistance has not kept pace in terms of quantity and quality of aid and in terms of consistency.

The implications are that the Government, foreign representations and International Organisations that are implanted within the International Zone, skews their 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 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 have adapted and responded to the changing landscape in Iraq, using their mandate, charter and the above-mentioned Code of Conduct as reference points to guide their actions. The ability to respond however is often constrained by a lack of neutral and flexible funding that supports NGOs 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, such as NCCI, 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 platform 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 humanitarian needs, NGOs and NCCI have decided to activate a field-based emergency network that will improve the quality of aid responses by centralising and securing information on existing actors, improve field linkages, and continue to link NGOs with the Amman based international community.

In the short term, there appears to be no way to address the protection vacuum in much of Iraq. MNF-I are incapable of protecting even themselves, while the Iraqi authorities cannot access many of those in need. 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 be expected to respond, and ways in which they can do so. 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, fuel, clothing, 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.

Nowadays, most of the attention has spotlighted the refugees' problem, which should indeed be addressed, and a lot of stakeholders are looking to assess what is going on in the region, and are also in need of a better understanding of what are the realities beyond the overprotected International zone and behind the newly planned walls.

Therefore, we would like to call them to address the roots of the problems and to meet the needs of the affected people giving increased support to NGOs, as neutral and impartial key actors on the ground; to help develop a more coordinated, flexible and locally-based humanitarian response; to ensure that International Humanitarian Law is always and fully respected and the need for the International leadership to acknowledge their equal responsibility to engage and assist Iraqis.