During the year 2020, UNICEF implemented the COVID-19 response plan agreed with the Iraq Federal Ministry of Health. UNICEF was also the main partner on procurement and distribution of PPEs.
Due to COVID-19, schools continued to be closed during the entire academic year, rendering more than 10 million students out of school. UNICEF supported remote learning options for children and the preparation of blended approaches for a Back to Learning campaign. In partnership with national organizations, UNICEF also identified 4,000 IDP and returnee out-of-school and dropout children, managing to enrol them in the formal education system.
UNICEF carried out remote GBV risk mitigation training sessions for UNICEF’s partners, thereby enhancing the capacities of 397 humanitarian workers.
Despite COVID-19-related challenges, UNICEF supported the upgrade of WASH facilities in 115 schools, benefitting 80,941 (38,438 girls and 42,503 goys), as well as the rehabilitation of WASH facilities in 40 primary health care centres, benefitting 324,000 (165,450 female and 158,550 male).
Funding Overview and Partnerships
In 2020, UNICEF appealed for USD 62.2 million to sustain and improve provision of critical basic services for children and women in Iraq. In Q4 2020, UNICEF received generous funding from Korea for Health and Nutrition programmes.
As of 31 December 2020, UNICEF Iraq HAC appeal is 56 per cent funded (USD$ 34.9 million), with a funding gap of 44 per cent (USD$ 27.4 million). The sector that bears the brunt of underfunding is Emergency Response and Preparedness, with a funding gap of 100 per cent. Other sectors presenting major funding gaps are winterization (76 per cent) and WASH (72 per cent).
Situation Overview & Humanitarian Needs
The humanitarian situation in Iraq resulted from the armed conflict with ISIS, which ended in 2017. At the start of 2020, it was anticipated that further improvements in the overall situation in the country would lead to a continued reduction in displaced people and a possible transition out of the humanitarian response modality to one more focused on longer-term development. However, the COVID-19 crisis that took hold from March 2020, coupled with the economic crisis primarily due to falls in the global oil price, has increased the vulnerabilities of displaced populations and their host communities, and prolonged the need for humanitarian assistance. The situation has been further exacerbated by the initiation of a rapid camp closure process by the Government in October 2020, leading to the secondary displacement of thousands of former camp residents without a viable option of sustainable return to their areas of origin. This combination of factors means that, at the end of 2020, although the displaced population in camps decreased, the overall population in acute humanitarian need increased.
The fluid nature of the situation towards the end of 2020, coupled with the challenges to carrying out needs assessments due to the COVID-19 restrictions, made it difficult to define the exact humanitarian situation. Nevertheless, under the oversight of the Inter Cluster Coordination Group, a Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) for 2021 was successfully carried out through remote data collection methods, along with secondary data analysis. In light of the HNO, 2.4 million people are in acute need in 2020-2021 compared to 1.8 million people in 2019-2020, with the proportion of out-of-camp IDPs in acute need increasing from 36 percent last year to 45 percent this year.
The political situation in the country remained fragile, notably in the first few months of the year, during which several attempts were made to form a government, following the nationwide protests that began in October 2019. The eventual appointment of the current Prime Minister in May 2020 led to a certain degree of political stability, while national elections have been announced for June 2021. Tensions between the Federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government, particularly over budget allocations and oil revenues, have not been satisfactorily solved. Regional and global geo-politics, including the tensions between Iran and the Unites States of America, also play out on Iraqi soil and impact on the political dynamics. These factors also lead to a fragile security situation and the ever-present threat of conflict that can undermine attempts to durable solutions for displaced populations.
The COVID-19 crisis began with the first confirmed case being recorded on 24 February 2020. Cases slowly built up from March to May, during which official cases averaged less than 100 per day, while daily deaths were in single figures. However, it should be noted that at this time testing was not widespread and the actual situation was not known. From later May, the number of cases rapidly increased; the peak was in July 2020, with more than 120 fatalities per day – around 4,000 in the month of July. By 31 December, daily cases were less than 1,000 and daily deaths again in single figures. In total, since the start of the pandemic, there have been around 600,000 confirmed cases with almost 13,000 deaths. The improvement in the situation is encouraging, particularly as the extent of testing has continued to expand even if the number of confirmed cases continued to drop. Nevertheless, it is quite possible that Iraq will see a further wave of cases, particularly if the new strain currently affecting Europe finds its way to the country and if the sense of complacency induced by the low number of cases continues.
For children, the most severe impact of the COVID-19 crisis has been its impact on education, with schools closed for prolonged periods and around 10 million children affected. As of the end of the year, classes were operating for just one day per week. Alternative approaches to education have been developed, including delivery through television and online platforms. Other impacts of the crisis on children have included reduced immunization rates, increased risk of violence against children as well as increased poverty. According to an assessment carried out by the Ministry of Planning with support from UNICEF and the World Bank, the number of children and adolescents in poverty is set to double, from around 1 in 5 to almost 40 per cent.