Remarks to the press following joint OCHA-OIC mission to Iraq
Rashid Khalikov, Director Geneva, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
Geneva, 27 October 2014
I am pleased to tell you about our mission to Iraq with His Excellency Hesham Youssef, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
We have just returned from a mission there last week. It lasted four days and we visited Erbil, Baghdad and Dohuk Governorate where we were able to see for ourselves the magnitude of the crisis: an immense humanitarian emergency is unfolding in front of our eyes and we have 5.2 million Iraqis in need of assistance.
1.8 million people have been displaced since January 2014 - half of them are children. Some have settled with friends and family, but hundreds of thousands more have been forced to shelter in unfinished buildings, public spaces and informal settlements unfit to host people who fled with very few belongings.
As a harsh winter is coming - and we saw that it is very cold in the evenings and at night - we saw the rains that are very frequent and very strong. 800,000 people are in urgent need of shelter and many more are in need of winterisation assistance.
We visited the Kurdistan Region of Iraq which bears the brunt of the displacement crisis with more the 850,000 displaced. We went to Dohuk Governorate where more than half a million people have sought refuge and 90,000 live in the open, with heavy rains almost daily and very cold temperatures.
We saw that winterisation activities are ongoing. There is distribution of core relief items, blankets, kerosene, heating stoves, jerry cans, mats and insulation to make tents warmer and more resistant to the winter. We talked to people, authorities and humanitarian partners who told us that winterisation is their top priority in the coming days and weeks. But they stressed that they urgently need more resources to ensure a wider coverage.
As you know, we have just launched the Strategic Response Plan last Thursday which requests US$2.2 billion to cover the humanitarian and protection needs of 5.2 million people by the end of December 2015. To date, more than $600 million has been contributed, including a major contribution by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
An additional $1.6 billion, however, is now needed for activities over the next 15 months. The needs are immense. It is imperative that we step up our efforts now. We all have a role to play.
Hesham Youssef, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs for the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC)
As Rashid Khalikov mentioned, we had a joint mission to Iraq in order to try to inform our member states in the OIC and the international community, and the public at large, about the dire humanitarian situation in Iraq. We met high officials both in the Government of Iraq and in Kurdistan and in the Governorate of Dohuk. And we visited the Turkish/Iraqi border where refugees were coming from Ain al-Arab/Kobane on a daily basis - around 12,000 refugees so far in the last two weeks or so. And I would like to make just a few brief remarks before we open the floor for questions.
First, we were extremely impressed by the generosity of the host communities to displaced persons in Iraq. What they are doing is really admirable.
Second, the efforts of local authorities and humanitarian workers are also extremely admirable.
The Government of Iraq has stepped up its efforts but we hope that more can be done in the near future.
As for priorities, and as Rashid mentioned, winterisation is a critical priority. As a result of the approaching winter it is getting rather cold in the north so winterisation is a priority. Shelter is also associated with it and is another priority.
As a result of the difficulties in shelter, for example, there are 400 schools in Kurdistan that are hosting IDPs which led to the postponement of the school year to the 1st of December for all these schools, putting additional pressure on the host communities.
There are all kinds of difficulties particularly facing minorities, some of them are fearful to go back even if they feel that the situation calms down somewhat but this is another challenge that we will be facing.
Unfortunately, the sentiment in Iraq is that this crisis will not end in the near future.
We have stressed during our visit the importance of respecting International Humanitarian Law and also the importance of trying to access all those who are in need.
I just want to conclude by paying tribute to the humanitarian workers who have been doing a very difficult job in Iraq and also thank the Government of Saudi Arabia; we have been told time and again in Iraq that had it not been for the support and contribution coming from Saudi Arabia, many more people would have died.
We have met with the Humanitarian Liaison Working Group and we have conveyed to them our report regarding the mission and appealed to the donor community to be much more generous in light of the increased needs for millions of displaced people in Iraq.