In late February 2009 the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released its latest humanitarian report on Iraq. The paper is a compilation of several others by UNICEF, Oxfam, and the International Organization for Migration, many of which have been reported here before, but also includes some new reporting as well. The humanitarian update focuses upon six main topics: refugees and the displaced, violence, women’s issues, children, Iraq’s food ration system, and health.
Returning refugees is a growing issue in Iraq. The number of Iraqis coming home has increased from 2007 to 2008. In 2007 an estimated 36,000 displaced people came back, compared to 195,240 in 2008. 25,000 refugees from other countries have also returned over those two years. In 2008 an average of 1,650 displaced families came back each month with the highest numbers during July, August and September, but then declining for the remaining three months of the year. Many have gone back to Baghdad, the sight of most of the displacement in the country. Other families wish to go back as well, but don’t have the financial means to.
The government has offered $432 to families that return from another province, and $216 to those that go back home within their own governorate. Baghdad began this program in October 2008, but it’s not clear whether it will continue in 2009. The Ministry of Displacement and Migration announced in February 2009 for example, that it had run out of funds for this program.
Many of those coming back face a number of problems finding basic necessities. Electricity is spotty, as well as access to public services and health care. Most importantly is finding housing. 41.8% of displaced families surveyed said they had no access to their property. 16.7% said they do have access, and 38.7% said they don’t know the status of their former homes. Of those that could go back 35% said their homes ere currently occupied. 22.1% said their homes were destroyed, 8.6% said they couldn’t go back to them because of security conditions, 2.5% said the military was using their property, while 0.5% said the government had taken it over.
In 2008 the Ministry of Displacement and Migration began plans to build housing projects for the displaced that could not go back home, but many of those plans have been put on hold because of budget cuts. Originally the Ministry was to be given $43.2 million for building housing projects in the 2009 budget, but that amount was slashed to $6.85 million because of the declining revenues from oil.
There are also restrictions and problems the displaced face when trying to receive aid from the government or retrieve their property. First, not all have registered with the Ministry of Displacement and Migration, which is a requirement to receive payments. Only Iraqis that left between January 1, 2006 and January 1, 2008 are covered. The amount of aid offered by the government is also not much, especially for those that had their homes destroyed. Iraqis that rented will probably not be able to get their places back, while those that sold, no matter what the situation, have no recourses. There are also some stories of returnees being threatened and attacked, and being forced to flee again. Finally, women have a much harder time coming up with the requirements to regain their property or get government assistance.
Both the United Nations and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have programs for the internally displaced, but they are only reaching a fraction of the total. The U.N. has created Protection Assistance Centers for example that have only helped 26,677 people out of around 2 million internally displaced. The IOM has care packages for the displaced, but are only operating in Baghdad, Anbar, Irbil and Basra, and have only given them out to around 2,200 families, approximately 13,200 people.
Violence, especially against civilians, continues in Iraq, but at much lower levels than before. The number of civilian casualties from December 2008 to January 2009 for example decreased. In December 275 civilians were killed and 854 wounded compared to 192 killed and 591 wounded in January. Two to three dozen bodies are also found on the streets each month. On average thirteen Iraqis civilians were killed per day in 2008. Members of the Iraqi security forces are also targets with 83 killed and 200 wounded in December, and 99 killed and 231 wounded in January. In total 392 Iraqis were killed and 1,054 wounded in December, and 335 died in January, and 1,085 wounded.
The U.N. has growing concerns about the state of Iraq’s women. A 2008 report found that women headed 10.2% of Iraq’s households. There are also around 1 million widows in the country. These Iraqis are largely ignored in society, and have a much harder time providing for their families. A 2008 survey of the Iraqi and Middle Eastern press found that only 1% of stories were about women. More than half were about violence, and 20% more were on female suicide bombers. The Iraqi Minister of Women’s Affairs also recently resigned in February 2009 claiming that the government was providing her with few funds, but there are reports that she will go back to her job. Calling attention to their plight, a group of widows held a demonstration in Baghdad calling for government aid on International Women’s Day in March.
Female Headed Households By Province
Dhi Qar 10.6%
Children in northern Iraq are facing bad conditions. Schools visited by UNICEF in Diyala and Dohuk were overcrowded, lacked clean water, and sanitation. More than 900 children were also found in Kirkuk begging. Half of them were displaced.
The Iraqi government began its food rations system in 1995 under the U.N.’s Oil for Food program. 95% of Iraqis support the system. In 2007 the Ministry of Trade, which controls it, was going to cut the handouts in half because a lack of funds, but the 2008 supplemental budget stopped that. In 2009 the Ministry of Trade still has plans to reduce the program, this time limiting it only to the poor. The packages cost the government $0.50 per person.
The Ministry of Health is concerned about a measles outbreak. In 2008 6,000 cases were reported in nine provinces. They were also worried that it would spread to Najaf, Sulaymaniya, Irbil, Maysan, and Dohuk. That would place up to 800,000 children at risk. The government is telling families that they need to get their kids vaccinated, and is trying to create a new health program to deal with it.
Aswat al-Iraq, “Widows urge govt. to support them economically, socially,” 3/9/09
Salaheddin, Sinan, “Iraq’s women’s minister to withdraw resignation,” Associated Press, 3/9/09
Al-Shawfi, Mundher, “Iraqi government careless about its own refugees – minister,” Azzaman, 2/27/09
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Humanitarian Update Iraq, December 2008-January 2009” United Nations, 1/31/09