UNICEF Humanitarian action update - Iraq, 17 Feb 2009


Voting in Governorate Council elections takes place with hopes that successful candidates step-up efforts for Iraqi children

- Measles a growing threat to children in Najaf, Sulymania, Erbil, Missan and Dahuk

- Infrastructure strained due to violence and neglect continues to jeopardize the welfare of Iraq's children

- Poverty continues to be a key factor preventing children attending school


The local elections of 31 January were held successfully in 14 of Iraq's 18 governorates. Millions of voters turned out in an environment free of violence, with early results indicating a likely victory for Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's coalition in ten provinces. Such a result would represent defeat for the followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, as well as for the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a powerful Shiite party in the present government. It is hoped the final outcome will pave the way for increasing investments into the future of Iraq's children, who have borne the brunt of the last five years of conflict and uncertainty.

Measles remains a threat to the health of Iraq's children, with the Ministry of Health (MoH) announcing an outbreak of measles infections in at least nine governorates throughout the country totalling over 6,000 cases since early 2008. The MoH noted the possibility of this number increasing in the coming weeks, requesting all parents to vaccinate their children. The MoH is developing a plan to revitalize the Expanded Program of Immunization (EPI) and raise coverage rates. The outbreak is starting to spread to five additional governorates (Najaf, Sulimaniyah, Erbil, Missan and Dahuk), placing over 800,000 children in those locations at risk.

Schools visited in Diyala, including Al Farazdaq and al Ramla primary schools in Sadiya sub district, are experiencing serious over-crowding, in one case with 600 students housed in one building. Students only have access to well water which is not suitable for drinking, and five children were reported hospitalized with illnesses related to water contamination. Kahn Beni Sa'ad Primary and Intermediate school in Ba'quba suffers from lack of access to safe drinking water for its 410 students. The building also lacks functional sanitation facilities.

In Dahuk governorate, it has been observed that latrines in schools visited in the governorate are in poor condition and are often closed due to lack of servicing. A large percentage of schools do not have access to clean drinking water. Due to these conditions, students are often obliged to leave the premises during school hours to access safe water and proper sanitation facilities.

In Tameem, more than 900 children have been reported begging on the streets in the city of Kirkuk. Around half of this number is IDP children, with the remainder being children obliged to work to support their impoverished families. Up to 100 orphans are included in this number.

Recent returnees to Failaq and Kirkuk suffer from a lack of adequate shelter and water / sanitation facilities. Primary schools in Failaq lack adequate heating and furnishing, and PHCs are insufficiently provisioned with medical supplies.

Children in Mala-Qara and Faris-Bawa villages near Makhmur, in Erbil, were reported to be suffering from water-borne disease. Capacity of local health facilities is currently inadequate to provide proper treatment. Initial assessments in Kandinawa and Gwair (Erbil) indicate that the majority of residents in these areas are living in very poor conditions. The current drought has affected their ability to produce food and access to drinking water is insufficient.

According to a local NGO partner, four female suicides have been recorded in Sulimaniyah within the first half of January 2009, three of which were girls under the age of 13. The partner reports that there was evidence of domestic abuse in each case.

A focus group discussion held with women and girls in Rizqary in late 2008 revealed that most girls who do not continue education after age 13 cite social constraints and a lack of understanding and importance within the household about the needs of their female children to enjoy equal access to education opportunities.

In Anbar, recent assessments in remote and sparsely populated areas such as Rawa and Barwana have revealed chronic poverty and a reliance on agriculture to generate income. Recent fighting has caused some damage to basic infrastructure, but the most significant influence on basic services has been decades of neglect. The children in these harsh locations still suffer from underinvestment in basic services including inadequate drinking water systems and overcrowded schools.

Mutheaq and Sdekiyah, locations closer to Ramadi, have suffered more from chronic neglect than direct violence, but recent government interventions have improved the situation for children in terms of basic service provision. However, gaps remain and the children of these communities still face a tenuous situation in terms of health and sanitation. There is an almost uniform absence of social services catering to the physical and psychosocial protection of children and women in these communities.

Assessments in Radhwaniya, west of Baghdad, show a deeply troubling situation for children. Initial data indicates less than 40% of children under two have been immunized against measles, up to 20% of children under five are underweight, and only 3% of households have a safe and reliable source of drinking water. Analysis of assessment data is ongoing.

Villages in Tal Abta, Nineveh, are inhabited by a predominantly rural population suffering from neglect as a result of remoteness and drought. While data is still being collated, it is clear that the 11,000 children of this area face numerous challenges to their development. Clean water is scarce, with the only reliable source being tankers traveling a treatment plant 100km away. Most are forced to rely on primitive wells and open sources of water. Health facilities serving this area are extremely limited and there are no formal mechanisms for the people to access healthcare. The majority of children commence work on completion of primary school, and there are no secondary schools functioning (although one is currently being constructed). There are no protection services in the community and awareness of children's and women's rights is strongly colored by traditional values and beliefs.

There has been a stabilization in the recent IDP crisis in Mosul, with 1,325 of the 1,884 displaced families having now returned to Mosul.

In Basra, an initial assessment in an area referred to as the Old Naval Command has identified 250 families living in deplorable conditions. Most inhabit old barracks, with no sewage system, no access to safe water, and an absence of health facilities and other public services, including sanitation. Further assessments are ongoing in collaboration with UNHCR and local authorities to explore sustainable alternatives for this population.