Iraq Must Not Be Forgotten: The Humanitarian Crisis Worsens

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Oxfam International

Iraq Must Not Be Forgotten: The Humanitarian Crisis Worsens

Over 60 countries have joined a coalition to roll back ISIS in Iraq. In the face of a growing humanitarian catastrophe, donors should demonstrate the same resolve in addressing the huge and dire needs facing Iraqis across the country. (Photo: Oxfam International)

As ISIS continues to have devastating effects on Iraq, the country is facing some of the most profound challenges it has seen in the last decade. Rachel Sider, Humanitarian Policy Advisor, comments on the need for governments to prioritize the area as they meet this week in the United States at a donor pledging conference.

Having worked in Iraq for nearly two years, I have witnessed it fall in and out of the media spotlight. I have grimly watched the anti-ISIS campaign continually overshadow the desperate plight of 3.4 million Iraqis who have fled their homes, and I have listened time and again to policymakers from wealthy governments tell me that civilian protection was "not a priority".

It doesn't always have to be this way. 

Policymakers from wealthy governments tell me that civilian protection was "not a priority."

The upcoming donor pledging conference on Iraq on July 20 comes as the country faces some of the most profound challenges it has experienced in the last decade. It is a rare opportunity to address the enormous challenges facing civilians in Iraq. A massive humanitarian crisis worsens by the day as families flee violence across many parts of Iraq and has left more than 10 million people in need. Fallujah is only the latest in a string of attacks that has left people desperate to escape. This has kept children from attending school, separated families and disrupted the way that people from all walks of life earn a living. 

By the end of the year, thousands more will require life-saving aid. This includes not only the 3.4 million Iraqis, but also refugees from neighboring Syria fleeing their own country's brutal conflict. 

As violence spreads, the prospects of families seeking to return home diminish daily. Iraqis who left their homes have generously cared for families on the run, but these communities who have experienced turmoil and poverty for decades now have little left to share. Insufficient support from either Iraqi authorities or the international community has tested their cohesion. A mother of four who fled when ISIS swept through their town in southern Diyala two years ago told me, "We don't know what we are returning to. We left with nothing and the only news we have is that my husband's business has been completely burned."

This week, Oxfam began work on three boreholes to provide water in Debaga camp, in the district of Erbil governorate. It is already overcrowded, sheltering over 12,000 families from the Mosul area. Many of these families are blocked from seeking refuge in Iraq's relatively safe Kurdish region due to ethnic and demographic tensions. They have fled their homes with almost nothing and have been used by ISIS as human shields. 

As I look ahead to what the next year in Iraq looks like, I know we will see more cases like Debaga, of families caught in the cross fire seeking safety in overcrowded, ill-equipped camps that rely on services, like clean water, hospitals and schools that communities near the camp cannot provide. 

Humanitarian conditions continue to deteriorate while the conflict intensifies.  Despite the number of people affected by the fighting increasing threefold in the last year, Iraq has seen a severe drop in aid funding. While richer countries are focused on the very real threat of violent extremism, they are not investing enough to address the poverty and insecurity which helped fuel its rise. Meanwhile families who continue to flee violence in Iraq face a long and difficult path home.

Over 60 countries have joined a coalition to roll back ISIS in Iraq. In the face of a growing humanitarian catastrophe, donors should demonstrate the same resolve in addressing the huge and dire needs facing Iraqis across the country.

At this week's pledging conference donors must come together to send a clear signal to the people of Iraq: "We have not abandoned you." The world's most prosperous countries must provide their fair share of humanitarian aid for Iraqis in need and commit to addressing root causes of violence. 

Oxfam is working in over 50 villages and towns across Diyala and Kirkuk governorates, in areas that remain in contested among Iraqi authorities. Oxfam's assistance includes water, sanitation and hygiene promotion, cash distributions and livelihoods for vulnerable populations. Oxfam is expanding operations to include newly accessible areas farther south where families have begun returning to their communities to rebuild their homes, restart their lives from scratch and recover from the trauma of conflict.

Rachel Sider

Rachel Sider is a Humanitarian Policy Advisor for Oxfam International.

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