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 Facts About Child Labor in Iraq

Iraq is one of the largest recipients of U.S. aid. It has been wracked by violence for decades. Children in Irag are particularly vulnerable to exploitation in this violent situation. These 10 facts about child labor in Iraq demonstrate just how dangerous it can be.

10 Facts About Child Labor in Iraq

  1. More than 575,000 children worked instead of going to school in Iraq in 2016. This is an increase of more than 250,000 since 1990 when the First Gulf War began and the ongoing violence within Iraq started. Approximately 75 percent of Iraqi children age 5 to 14 attend school, but attendance rates are unevenly distributed. In governates that have experienced violence, up to 90 percent of children are out of school.
  2. Children are coerced into various kinds of work. Some work in agriculture or industries such as construction, factory work and brick making. Children also work in the service industry and are involved in domestic work and street work, such as selling goods and pushing carts. It is estimated that 2 percent of children age 12-14 spend 28 hours or more a week on housework. The same number of children perform unpaid work for someone other than an immediate family member. About 12 percent work for their family’s businesses.
  3. Many children in Iraq are coerced into the “worst forms of child labor” as identified by the International Labour Organization (ILO). These include recruitment into armed conflict, use in illegal activities such as drug trafficking, forced begging, domestic work as a result of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. Forces on both sides of the current conflict in Iraq have used child soldiers, one of the worst forms of child labor. In 2018, ISIL was responsible for recruiting 39 children and detaining more than 900.
  4. The Popular Mobilization Forces, a militia officially endorsed by the Iraqi state, has reportedly trained more than 200 children to join the fight against ISIS. Human Rights Watch has documented 38 cases of children being recruited into forces affiliated with the PKK, some as young as 12. On the other side of the conflict, ISIS has consistently used children as suicide bombers and soldiers. ISIS recruits children as they are easiest to indoctrinate. Sometimes they will pay impoverished families hundreds of dollars a month to send their children to military training camps.
  5. Although the minimum age requirement to work in Iraq is 15, laws are not evenly enforced. Additionally, while forced labor and sexual exploitation of children are prohibited, there are no laws prohibiting human trafficking. Adding to the problem, children are only required to be in school for six years. This would typically end their education at age 12. This makes children age 12 to 15 especially at risk for exploitation since they are often out of school but cannot work legally.
  6. Problems such as poverty, lack of education and a shortage of economic opportunities increase child labor. Children living in rural areas are more likely to work than those living in cities due to the stark divide in poverty levels. About 39 percent of people living in rural areas in Iraq live in poverty while only 16 percent of urban dwellers are impoverished. Poverty is a driving factor behind child labor, as impoverished parents often need income from their children so the family can get by.
  7. Sexual exploitation is also one of the worst forms of child labor. In some parts of Iraq, girls are used as “gifts” to settle disputes between tribes. Additionally, growing poverty has increased the number of parents force girls into marriages. At least 5 percent of girls in Iraq are married before the age of 15. In regions controlled by ISIS, the terrorist group runs markets in which captured girls and women are sold as sex slaves. Yezidi women and girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation, facing capture and trafficking by ISIS fighters. Gender-based discrimination also contributes to the problem of the sexual exploitation of young girls.
  8. The worst forms of child labor can have physical and psychological effects on children. Because children are still developing, children risk stunted growth and physical atrophy as well as behavioral issues from performing physical labor. Performing hard labor in industries such as agriculture also involves working with dangerous equipment, carrying overly heavy loads and working with dangerous chemicals and pesticides. Being exposed to violence and cruelty as a young child can also result in psychological problems. Spending time at work instead of with their peers can also result in delayed social development, depression and isolation.
  9. Iraq has made efforts to get rid of child labor. It has opened 80 schools in West Mosul and created educational opportunities for Syrian refuges children. This has resulted in 60,000 more children attending school. Iraq has also created new policies meant to address child labor through education and social services. These include the creation of informal education programs, subsidies for law oncome families so that children do not have to work and shelters for human trafficking victims.
  10. Organizations such as UNICEF have been working with the Iraqi government to protect children and keep them in school. UNICEF is striving to expand access to schools and increase the quality of education within Iraq. The agency has provided e-learning for children in areas without schools and assisted the Iraqi government with the Accelerated Learning Programme for children who have missed school. UNICEF continues to work with Iraq to improve the quality of education within the country. Together, they are making revisions to curriculums and materials and extended training for teachers. Additionally, the organization calls for the strengthening of institutions meant to protect children. It wants to increase case management and other services meant to serve children and combat social norms that prevent children and their families from seeking help.

The ILO has declared that the long-term solution to child labor “lies in sustained economic growth leading to social progress, in particular, poverty alleviation and universal education.” This means that the U.S. has an opportunity to end child labor in Iraq through poverty-reducing measures. Currently, 80 percent of U.S. aid to Iraq goes to military assistance, with only 20 percent used to address humanitarian needs.

These 10 facts about child labor in Iraq demonstrate that an increase in aid focused on poverty-reduction and education could change the lives of thousands of children. By reducing poverty, there is a stronger chance of reducing child labor.

Philip Daniel Glass
Photo: Flickr

QANDIL's Humanitarian Efforts
Sweden’s renown as a humanitarian superpower stems from its involvement in global aid initiatives. In 2018, the country devoted 1.04 percent of its gross national income (GNI) to overseas development, making Sweden the sixth-largest humanitarian aid contributor among the world’s countries and the largest one proportional to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). From 1975 onward, Sweden’s humanitarian aid efforts have continually surpassed the U.N.’s minimum target of developed nations spending 0.7 percent of GNI on overseas development initiatives.

One of the most well-regarded Sweden-based NGOs is QANDIL. Established in Stockholm in 1991, QANDIL’s initiatives aim to foster lasting peace and development in Iraq. Beneficiaries of its aid range from refugees and returnees to internally displaced persons and local host communities. Since 2016, QANDIL has concentrated its efforts on development in the Kurdistan region, serving as the most prominent partner of UNHCR in this region. Below are seven facts about QANDIL’s humanitarian efforts.

7 Facts About QANDIL’s Humanitarian Efforts

  1. Economic Assistance — Two Cash-Based Intervention projects implemented in 2017 raised $2,695,280 for 3,829 families in need in the Kurdistan region’s Duhok governorate. In Erbil, QANDIL distributed $3,155,800 to 3,054 families in the Erbil governorate, while $648,290 went to 1,900 families in the Sulaymaniyah governorate. Ultimately, QANDIL distributed $6,499,370 to 8,783 refugees and IDP families within three of the Kurdistan region’s governorates. This provides a foundation by which these uprooted people may become economically stable and productive.
  2. Shelter — Through the Shelter Activities Project, QANDIL supported uprooted people in search of shelter, which included 7,246 families. Among QANDIL’s successes in providing shelter-based aid is the implementation of 25 major shelter rehabilitation initiatives, encompassing five camps in the Sulaymaniyah governorate. This helped resolve the long-term problem of incomplete and hazardous structures allotted to displaced persons.
  3. Legal Services — The Outreach Project, operating in the Erbil and Duhok governorates, offers legal services to IDPs and refugees. With the participation of volunteers from both the displaced and host communities, QANDIL’s efforts have granted legal assistance to 319,773 IDPs and refugees and outreach services to 19,894 persons in the Erbil governorate alone. In the Duhok governorate, beneficiaries included 69,093 refugees and IDPs. Furthermore, in 2017, QANDIL participated in an initiative to provide mobile magistrates to administer court-related matters for displaced persons.
  4. Assistance for Gender-Based Violence Victims — With the participation of UNFPA, QANDIL commits resources to finance and submitting reports to seven local NGOs that operate 21 women’s social centers. These centers function in both responsive and preventative capacities for women both within and outside camps. Services that these centers offer include listening, counseling, referrals to other institutions, distribution of hygiene kits and even recreational activities. In total, this program has assisted 67,108 women and girls in the Duhok governorate, 11,021 in the Erbil governorate and 43,797 in the Sulaymaniyah governorate.
  5. Youth Education — Starting in 2017, QANDIL devised an educational initiative targeting Syrian refugee students, funded at approximately $271,197. The soft component of this initiative provided funding and resources for recreational activities and catch-up classes, as well as teacher capacity building training and the maintenance of parent-teacher associations, in schools enrolling refugee students in the Sulaymaniyah governorate. The initiative’s hard component comprises aid for special needs students at seven refugee schools in the Sulaymaniyah governorate.
  6. Skills Training — In collaboration with the German development aid organization GIZ, QANDIL embarked on a vocational and educational initiative aiming to benefit displaced persons residing at Debanga camp. These individuals received access to skills training and qualifications certification, ranging from plumbing and electricity to language and art, in three-week courses offering free tuition. As a whole in 2017, the vocational and educational training centers that QANDIL supported with funding from GIZ have improved the employment prospects for 1,756 individuals, out of which 546 were women.
  7. Immediate Response in Crisis Situations — With an upsurge in regional conflict on Oct. 16, 2017, came an increase in IDPs in Tuz Khurmatu, a city 88 kilometers south of Kirkuk. This event tested the efficacy and efficiency of QANDIL’s humanitarian aid efforts. By Oct. 24, QANDIL’s Emergency Response Committee began dispensing out emergency kits to persons that the conflict escalation affected. Included in these packages were necessities, food and non-food items alike. By Oct. 25, QANDIL parceled out 1,237 emergency kits to aid-seekers distributed over 25 locations in the Sulaymaniyah and Garmian regions. That same day, 600 aid-seekers received aid packages in the Erbil and Koya regions, while the rest of the aid made its way to other camps in the Sulaymaniyah area.

From education to vocational training to sanitation and hygiene and shelter and legal services, QANDIL’s humanitarian efforts in the Kurdistan region of Iraq continue to make a difference for the lives of thousands of displaced and settled people alike. Thus, QANDIL serves as an ambassador for Sweden’s humanitarian aid mission. Whether in the course of sustained initiatives or responses to imminent crises, QANDIL persists in its constructive humanitarian aid role in an unstable region. It is through the tireless efforts of such NGOs as QANDIL that Sweden continues to serve as a model in humanitarian aid initiatives to the rest of the world.

Philip Daniel Glass
Photo: Flickr

Using Art for Healing
Barely two years after its liberation from ISIS, Iraq is still harboring battle wounds. Everyone lost something, whether it was a home, business, family member or friend. A British Journal of Psychiatry study found that over 45 percent of child soldiers for ISIS in Northern Iraq who are between the ages of eight and 14 suffer from depression, anxiety and PTSD. USAID has been funding art and music projects that bring people together and beautify the country as part of a national healing process.

In recent years, billions of dollars have gone to rebuilding infrastructure and ensuring that Iraquis meet their basic needs. To supplement the reconstruction of cities, some organizations have focused on healing the social rifts that emerged during the occupation.

The Benefits of the Arts

Iraq became liberated in 2017 from a three-year reign of terror under ISIS, and physical reconstruction in the war-torn country has been slow. However, many recognize that repairing buildings and paving streets will not undo all of the damage. The violence has torn the social fabric of Iraq to shreds. Reporter Alice Su from The Atlantic wrote in 2018, “Even if Mosul is rebuilt… lingering distrust and ongoing sectarian and ethnic violence may doom Iraq’s post-ISIS future.” People must heal this pervasive distrust before Iraq can achieve stability.

To encourage reconciliation between Iraq’s Shi’ite majority and the ethnic minorities, USAID offers support for art and music projects that local organizations initiated. Research has indicated the positive qualities of creative engagement to decrease anxiety, stress and mood changes, and this makes art medicinal to damaged societies like those that have recently experienced war.

Art and Music in Iraq

The Karim Wasfi Center for Creativity runs orchestras for Iraqi youth and introduced the first music program for the country’s orphans and displaced.  Its founder, Karim Wasfi, conducted the Peace Through Arts Farabi Orchestra during a USAID-sponsored concert in Mosul last October 2018.  This performance was the first classical music concert to take place in Mosul since the liberation from ISIS.

Another project was with a Yezidi youth group to paint over ISIS propaganda graffiti in the streets of communities near Sinjar. The youth volunteers replaced hateful messages with those promoting peace and education. Not only was this a healing activity for the nearly 200 youth who participated in the painting, but residents will now walk by these uplifting murals on a daily basis.

USAID emphasizes supporting projects that use art and music to promote messages of peace, like the work in Sinjar. Using art for healing in war-torn Iraq is gaining traction with Iraqi locals, as well as in other regions of the Middle East. Syrian Kurdish artist Ferhad Khalil organized an art symposium in Raqqa, Syria, to celebrate liberation from ISIS, and the World Monuments Fund has a school in Jordan to train refugees in conservation stonemasonry.

Art has the power to move people. Harnessing that power, the U.S. is funding more projects that are using art for healing in war-torn Iraq. A violin or a paintbrush may be able to combat terrorism, ethnic hatred and fear in countries facing political strife.

– Olivia Heale
Photo: Flickr

Solving the Water Crisis in Iraq
Iraq faces a deepening water crisis due to the consequences of war, upstream damming and decreased rainfall. Both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers have dropped to precariously low levels, negatively affecting public health and agriculture productivity. The water crisis in Iraq requires international cooperation and innovative solutions.

The Problem

Iraq’s water supply has reached dangerous levels due to a myriad of reasons, perpetuating a cycle of constant crisis. The war in Iraq has resulted in the destruction of infrastructure necessary for potable water, such as dams and treatment plants.

Furthermore, dams in Syria and Turkey have decreased water levels in both major rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates. Iraq, historically reliant on these two rivers, has suffered greatly as a result of the upstream dams. Maintaining the crisis is the fact that average precipitation has decreased to among its lowest recorded levels.

The Consequences

The water crisis in Iraq produces several key consequences for the country. Among them are public health concerns, decreased agricultural productivity and political unrest.

If Iraqis have access to water, it is often unsafe for consumption. In Basra, 120,000 residents required hospital treatment in just one year due to contaminated water. Additionally, according to Human Rights Watch, the Iraqi government often fails to warn citizens about the dangers and presence of poor water quality.

Iraq’s agriculture sector places additional stress on the already limited water supply. In fact, the water crisis in Iraq prompted the government to suspend rice farming entirely. One in five Iraqis is employed in the farming industry. The water crisis has left many without an income and has forced others to find work elsewhere. This affects not only the farmers but the thousands of Iraqis who rely on the food they produce.

Many Iraqis are dissatisfied with the government due to the water crisis. They believe that Iraq’s government should have done more to protect water security such as by building dams of their own. In a country racked by instability and violence, protests over the government’s mishandling of water have left nine dead, hundreds injured and many more detained in prison according to the Human Rights Watch.

The Solution

No easy solution for the water crisis in Iraq exists. However, progress will require international cooperation. An international dialogue will need to address the Syrian and Turkish dams that starve Iraqi portions of the Tigris and Euphrates. Additionally, Iraq is in desperate need of aid to build its own water infrastructure.

In July 2019, Turkey published a detailed report regarding its plan to assist Iraq through the crisis. Turkey plans to take three critical steps in order to alleviate the strain placed on its southern neighbor. They will allow more water to flow into Iraq from the Tigris and the Euphrates. To help rebuild infrastructure, Turkey will provide financial aid. Finally, they promise to train Iraqi engineers and technical personnel on wastewater treatment and hydrology.

The United Nations, through UNESCO, hopes to provide training and financial aid to Iraq as well. The organization believes updated irrigation systems will deliver relief to Iraq’s struggling farmers. UNESCO plans to target aid in the two regions most affected by the water crisis, the northern and southern tips of Iraq.

The water crisis in Iraq stands in the way of further development. The country has, unfortunately, endured many hardships in recent history, but international cooperation remains its best hope for stability and prosperity.

– Kyle Linder
Photo: Pixabay

Water Crisis in Iraq
Historically, Iraq has been a particularly fertile region, containing both the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers. However, wars, economic sanctions, damming, pollution and decreased rainfall have together created a water crisis in Iraq.

Current Status

River levels in Iraq have dropped by 40 percent in the past two decades, according to the Ministry of Water Resources of Iraq. The drop has been partially caused by dams and reservoirs built by Turkey, Iraq’s northern neighbor, and decreased rain levels.

Canals branching out of the Tigris which are used to water rice, wheat and barley fields have run dry, leaving the fields barren. In a country where an estimated fifth of the population participates in agriculture, this has been particularly devastating. Some farmers have been reduced from cultivating 60 hectares of land to just five.

Basra, a governorate of approximately 4 million people, has been hit especially hard by the water crisis in Iraq. The region has suffered from a lack of reliable clean drinking water for the past 30 years. Basra relies mostly on the Shatt al-Arab river and its smaller canals for water. However, upstream damming has diverted river water for use on sugar plantations and other agricultural projects. This combined with decades of decreasing rainfall levels, predicted to only get worse with climate change, has created a severe lack of clean water in Basra.

Not only have water levels decreased, but the water available is also often contaminated. Iraqi water management plants suffer from a shortage of chlorine to treat contaminated water due to government regulation aimed at preventing armed groups from acquiring chlorine for use in weapons. However, even sufficient levels of chlorine would be unable to get rid of certain contaminates. The water of the Shatt al-Arab has been affected by seawater due to reduced river flow and by fecally contaminated groundwater which seeps in through cracks in pipes.

Contaminated water carries the risk of waterborne illnesses. In the summer of last year, 118,000 people in Basra were hospitalized to treat afflictions related to contaminated water. Additionally, highly salinized water damages soil and kills crops, a significant issue in Basra where agriculture is the primary method of sustenance. In the face of water shortages and contamination of the existing water sources, residents have been forced to purchase water at high prices. Those who cannot afford this are forced to rely on tap water which may carry diseases.

Efforts to Address the Water Crisis in Iraq

Although the water crisis in Iraq seems dire, steps are already being taken to rectify it. UNESCO is partnering with the Iraqi government to reform the water management sector and improve irrigation systems.

The agency is assisting the Ministry of Water Resources’ efforts to expand the capabilities of water management experts, strengthen the institutions which impact water resource management and create a national policy for water sustainability. Additionally, UNESCO works to facilitate agreements on water management between Iraq and its neighbors. Iraq depends on water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, water sources also shared by Turkey, Syria and Iran. Water security for all of these countries, therefore, depends on cooperation. UNESCO promotes dialogue between these countries in order to ensure the water is managed in a way that provides for all.

Additionally, UNESCO addressed the water crisis in Iraq through improvements to irrigation systems, often utilizing ancient methods that have existed in the region for millennia. In the northern Kurdish governorates, for instance, UNESCO has worked to restore the Kahrez system, an ancient method of providing drinking water and agricultural irrigation. Through this system, water is collected at the base of hills and transported to fields by a network of wells. Although the Kahrez systems have fallen into disrepair in past years, UNESCO is currently engaged in cleaning and restoring the wells in order to provide drinking water and irrigation for the surrounding communities.

The agency is also collaborating with officials in the Kurdistan Regional Government to train workers in the water management field and has provided hydrological testing equipment.

Through these efforts, the water crisis in Iraq may be alleviated. It’s yet another example of what can happen when nations work together and help each other out.

– Clarissa Cooney
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Diplomacy in the Middle East
In a time clouded by violent Middle Eastern conflicts, the spotlight is focusing on how quickly the U.S. can militarize these regions. However, it is important to take note of diplomacy in the Middle East. The following is a list of the U.S.’s current diplomatic efforts in the Middle East and the ones it could potentially make in the future.

The Iraq-U.S. Alliance

Iraq is proving itself to be a key alliance for the U.S., as America seeks to put an end to the Islamic State of Iraq. The importance of preserving this alliance is more vital now than ever. To nurture this alliance, U.S. aid goes to the government of Iraq in the hopes of helping the country attain its domestic goals. This aid will hopefully allow Iraq to respond to pressing matters such as finding living quarters for the displaced and putting reforms in place to meet the needs of its people. As Iraq continues to stabilize domestically, it will help both the U.S. and Iraq militarily by giving them the ability to build up their security forces.

Natural Disasters in Iran

In 2019, a flood struck Iran which resulted in over 60 deaths and only succeeded to add on to the country’s existing troubles. The country was already in an economic crisis as a result of President Trump’s decision to impose secondary sanctions. While the Trump administration has been harsh in its stance toward Iran, there are steps the U.S. can take to aid Iran in its recovery.

Many developing countries, like Iran, constantly face under-preparedness for natural disasters which then adds to its existing financial pains. If the U.S. were to aid Iran in preparedness by providing access to better weather monitoring technologies, the country would be better equipped to handle natural disasters. To help Iran accomplish this and save lives, the U.S. government could consider creating a new general license to allow for access to this technology.

Military and Economic Aid to Israel

Israel has been a longstanding ally of the U.S. In fact, America sends Israel over $3 billion in military and economic aid each year. Through strong diplomatic relations with Israel, the U.S. prevented radicalism movements in the Middle East. Israel also provided the U.S. with valuable military intelligence. The U.S. remains committed to this alliance, and as of August 21, 2019, the U.S. Agency for International Development released a statement indicating that it would be increasing efforts to create employment opportunities and stable communities in Israel. The U.S. also committed to continuing to provide “water, education, technology, science, agriculture, cyber-security and humanitarian assistance.”

Humanitarian Efforts in Syria

After President Trump’s targeted airstrike, humanitarian efforts in Syria have begun to garner interests again. The airstrike was in response to Bashar Al-Assad’s usage of chemical weapons on his people. Since the airstrike, the U.S. discussed different ways to aid Syria through helping displaced refugees, coordinating with other countries and giving more aid. People consider the crisis in Syria to be one of the worst humanitarian crises in modern times.

If America wishes to aid Syrians in this humanitarian crisis, the U.S. could make it easier for Syrian refugees to enter the country. Since the beginning of the Syrian refugee crisis, the U.S. has only accepted 20,000 refugees. There are still millions of Syrians in need of resettlement. The U.S. could also provide insight and intelligence to countries that are dealing with refugees on the frontlines. Countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan need help learning how to deal with a mass influx of refugees.

While the world has shown more interest in U.S. militarization, the U.S. government demonstrated its interest in facilitating diplomacy in the Middle East, indicating that diplomacy in the region is never off the table.

– Gabriella Gonzalez
Photo: Flickr

Justice for Iraqi Women

The status and protection of women remain a heated topic of discussion in international and national committees, particularly concerning justice for Iraqi women. Iraq‘s government is aware of the violations committed by its previous regime against certain civil community groups. As a result, Iraq’s government has strived to drastically change how they aid and support victimized and often impoverished groups. However, Iraq‘s strategy to reconcile these issues is unique. For example, China encourages its impoverished population to move to urbanized cities, and the United Kingdom encourages participation in its labor market. But Iraq seeks to acknowledge the voices of the victims.

In 2003, Iraq’s government and the International Center for Transitional Justice partnered with the Human Rights Center of the University of California, Berkeley to create Iraqi Voices. Iraqi Voices is a report based on data collected from in-depth interviews and focus groups. This data represents different perspectives of the Iraqi population regarding transitional justice. There are seven main topics of focus represented in this report: past human rights abuses, justice and accountability, truth-seeking and remembrance, amnesty, vetting, reparations, and social reconstruction and reconciliation.

Hearing Women

Iraq is working to have women and girls meaningfully participate in all stages of decision making. Programs and organizations like the SEED Foundation have worked to ensure this justice for Iraqi women. In particular, the SEED Foundation works to empower and engage the voices of violence and trafficking victims in Iraq. As such, SEED Foundation leaders and activists encourage the meaningful participation of women in sustainable peace negotiations and conflict reconciliation. Through their efforts, the Iraqi Parliament now has a quota setting aside 25 percent of seats for women in provincial councils. By acknowledging these voices, the Iraqi government is helping seek justice for Iraqi women.

Moreover, Iraq has taken strides to bridge the gap between policymakers and victims when addressing the needs of local communities affected by ISIS. To do so, Iraq is considering partnering with or accepting assistance from other nations. While international policymakers seek justice for Iraqi victims, they fail to address the real concerns of affected communities. Instead, they often focus on prosecuting the perpetrators. But affected communities also have more immediate needs. Therefore, this partnership and assistance allow victims of affected communities to participate in prioritizing and creating appropriate policies. Efforts to ensure meaningful participation in Iraq’s government thus bring about transitional justice. By addressing systemic failures, Iraq’s government brings justice to marginalized victims, including justice for Iraqi women.

Bringing Change

Ultimately, the changes implemented by the Iraqi government aid and empower impoverished and victimized groups, such as women. The inclusion of female voices in politics influences larger discussions affecting women and, as seen as Iraq, helps get justice for Iraqi women.

Jordan Melinda Washington
Photo: Pixabay

Iraq’s Chemical Pollution in the Wake of ISIS

Three decades of armed conflict in Iraq have decimated the country. Hundreds of thousands of people have died, while countless more have been wounded and displaced. It has damaged Iraq’s vital infrastructure and industrial areas, polluting the country and wiping agricultural lands off the map. The government’s capacity for industrial and environmental oversight has diminished severely and the occupation by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) heightened long-standing concerns over the country’s environmental safety. Iraq’s chemical pollution in the wake of ISIS puts more agriculture, livestock, water and human health at risk, but U.N. organizations and U.S. programs are helping the country to recover.

The ISIS Occupation Consequences

During their occupation of the country, ISIS captured the Alas and Ajeel oil fields in the Hamrin mountains and seized control of Qayyarah oil field and the Baiji oil refinery. Qayyarah oil field produced 30,000 barrels daily and Baiji produced more than one-third of Iraq’s domestic oil production before this occurrence. According to the ISIS’ scorched earth strategy, they ignited oil wells around the Qayyarah, Alas and Ajeel oil fields, and during their retreat of Baiji, they devastated the facility not only by setting fire to wells but to oil tanks and critical infrastructure. When the Iraqi army recaptured the Qayyarah oil field in September 2016, ISIS had set 20 wells on fire as they retreated.

Satellite imagery captured by UNOSAT, the Operational Satellite Applications Program of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, showed that smoke from the fires deposited soot over the town of Qayyarah and its surrounding area. The fires had released immense quantities of toxic residues, while mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) left behind by ISIS complicated efforts by Iraqi firefighters. They managed to extinguish the last fire in March 2017, but by then, all that was left was a blackened and contaminated landscape. When Wim Zwijnenburg, a lead researcher at PAX, a Dutch nonprofit and nongovernmental peace organization, visited the Qayyarah region in 2017, he saw burning oil slicks still flowing from oil wells, lakes filled with solidified crude oil and white sheep black from soot.

Suffering From the Effects of Chemical Warfare

ISIS’ chemical weapons usage was rampant in Iraq and the concealed improvised chemical devices they planted upon their retreats still threaten citizens of Mosul and its surrounding areas. Oil spills from exploded wells, refineries, trucks, tanks and pipelines, as well as mustard gas residue, have infiltrated soil, ground and surface waters. Chemicals found in crude oil, such as Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heavy metals have subsequently influenced drinking water and agricultural land. When released by fires, these dangerous substances can affect natural resources and civilian health in communities far beyond their burning epicenters.

Additionally, as the oil from the spills dried out, hazardous volatile organic compounds have been released into the air and have caused liver and kidney damage and cancer in humans and animals. Damage to Mosul’s electrical grid has resulted in high levels of Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination in the city associated with slower mental development in children and cancer.

Toxic chemicals released by oil fires had impacted the respiratory system of Iraqis and chemical compounds found in these fires can lead to acid rain that destroys soil, all negatively impacting vegetation. Citizens view the agricultural aftermath of Iraq’s chemical pollution as a long-term consequence. It has compromised their livelihoods by killing livestock and destroying cultivated and grazing land, ridding livestock breeders and farmers of their income. ISIS also used university laboratories in Mosul to manufacture chemical bombs. Their lack of safeguards when handling chemical agents and hazardous waste now pose serious contamination risks to the nearby environment.

Medical Treatment and Wash Needs

High levels of radiation and other toxic substances from previous conflicts still flow into the Iraqi environment, but it is Iraq’s chemical pollution in the wake of ISIS that heightens the concerns of Qayyarah’s citizens. Aside from burns, deformations and other disabilities, chemical weapons, burning oil and military remnants can mutate human genes and result in more defects at birth.

In March 2017, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) collaborated with medical authorities and the World Health Organization (WHO) to treat patients suffering from toxic exposure. According to a U.N. report, in September 2018, U.S. Ambassador in Iraq, Douglas A. Silliman, declared a health disaster in Basrah after approximately 80,000 people contracted gastrointestinal illness from contaminated water between August and September. In response, USAID allocated $750,000 to address immediate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) need.

Cleaning Up a Toxic Wasteland

In 2018, the Iraqi government and U.N. Environment Programme partnered to build a cross-ministry team to tackle Iraq’s chemical pollution. The joint initiative’s objective is to prevent future exploitation of toxic substances for chemical warfare through government capabilities enhancement and chemicals control improvement. As a selected participant of the U.N. Environment’s Special Programme, Iraq will receive comprehensive information and training to help it meet its chemicals and waste management program obligations.

Iraq’s Ministry of Environment is capable of assessing contaminated sites but lacks the equipment and skills for cleaning and full documentation. The hope is the initiative will provide strategies and enhance on-site assessment methodologies to expedite the cleanup of Iraq’s Chemical Pollution.

– Julianne Russo

Photo: Pixabay

Girls' Education
A history of conflict has negatively reflected on girls’ educational future in Iraq. Education levels have never returned to their pre-Gulf War levels. Furthermore, conflict with ISIS has erased much of the progress for girls’ education seen through higher enrollment rates in times of relative peace. Therefore, a rough chronology of conflicts is useful when reading the top 10 facts about girls’ education in Iraq, as these events drastically change the quality of education.

Top 10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Iraq

  1. Girls are under-represented in both primary and secondary schools and tend to drop out at a higher rate than boys. In the 2015/2016 school year, five million boys were enrolled in school compared to 4.2 million girls. In addition, at the lower secondary level, 4.7 percent of girls dropped out compared to 3.6 percent of boys.
  2. Rural girls are one of the groups with the lowest access to education in Iraq. For example, the lowest rate of primary school enrollment is among rural girls. The enrollment rate in 2009 was only 68 percent. Furthermore, this enrollment rate drops even further to 15 percent when analyzing the secondary school enrollment among rural girls. A contributing factor to this situation is the decline in the capabilities of teachers.
  3. The illiteracy rate among girls that are 12 and older is more than double the male rate. The illiteracy rate for girls is 28.2 percent, compared to the male rate of 13 percent. According to the U.N., traditional cultural and social factors remain main obstacles in improving the access to education for girls. The discrepancy between literacy rates illustrates how gender-based discrimination in the education system is both a cause and an effect of poverty.
  4. The rate of girls’ education and their access to adequate teaching was slightly better in Northern Iraq than the other regions in 2007. In the southern provinces, there was a decline in female attendance from two girls for every three boys to one girl for every four boys in this same time period.
  5. While this was true in 2007, a 2016 report by a UNICEF consultant found that in Kurdistan, the northern region of Iraq, education environments were a momentous challenge to girls’ education. Mistreatment, beatings and poor quality of teaching was reported, giving parents more reasons to remove their girls from school.
  6. While girls do suffer from underrepresentation in the school system, total girls’ enrollment in Iraq was 4.2 million in 2015-2016, up from 3.8 million in 2013-2014. Although this statistic is initially promising, two problems remain. First, girls still remain at a disadvantage in educational access. Contributing factors to the issue of educational access include a family’s wealth, the child’s age and the choice to work instead of attending school. Second, if the trend toward increased enrollment continues, a strain will be placed on existing educational resources and further funding for public education are needed.
  7. About 355,000 internally displaced children in Iraq don’t attend school, the majority of them being girls. The two main sources of internally displaced persons (IDP) originate from the upheaval caused by the Syrian civil war and the brutality of the Islamic State in neighboring countries. In IDP camps, the most common reason cited for children not attending school was a lack of interest in the classes. Other reasons included the cost of education and the time period for their arrival at the camp.
  8. Cities occupied by the Islamic State struggle to provide education to girls. In 2014, the Islamic State detained up to 7,000 Yazidi women and girls in Northern Iraq, removing them from access to education. Given the testimony of survivors who managed to escape, a report released by Human Rights Watch stated that the crimes against the Yazidis in Northern Iraq might amount to crimes against humanity.
  9. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) first access to an education project in Iraq is in collaboration with teachers from the Al-Rajaa school for girls in Ramadi. When the ICRC team first visited the school it there was danger and destruction around every corner, so the ICRC team began to rebuild it. This school is the only one in Ramadi to offer a science curriculum to girls’ and has been reopened in 2017 after conflict forced it to shut down. The school currently educates approximately 600 children.
  10. The issue of girls’ education in Iraq has received the attention of humanitarian celebrities like Malala Yousafazai who spent her 20th birthday in Iraq meeting with young women who were, and continue to be, victims of ISIS. The meeting was part of the Malala Fund’s Girl Power Trip, an initiative meant to tell the stories of the more than 130 million girls around the world who are out of school.

As it can be seen through these top 10 facts about girls’ education in Iraq, the education system continues to be plagued by conflicts in the country, and girls are disproportionately at higher risk of dropping out or repeating grades if remained in school.

While this is certainly a cause for concern, the risks for girls’ education in Iraq have not gone unnoticed and many strive to change this. The Iraqi education system was once hailed as the best in the Middle East and many nongovernmental organizations, domestic policymakers, politicians, celebrities, and the local populous desire to return it to this position of dominance.

Georgie Giannopoulos

Photo: Flickr

Foreign Aid in IraqAfter suffering so much war and conflict that forced many to flee from their country and led to the liberation of Iraq from the Islamic State, millions of displaced citizens are returning home. Out of six million Iraqi refugees in 2014, 3.8 million have returned to this broken country. A large number of individuals in Iraq depend on foreign aid and they still receive large donations and support every year. However, organizations providing aid have reported that donors have started to shift their focus to reconstruction instead of basic needs. Having this in mind, it is no wonder that many are worried about the people who are still unable to survive without humanitarian assistance.

Millions of Iraqi Refugees in Need

The U.N. estimates that 8.7 million people needed help from foreign aid in Iraq in 2018. This number is significantly lower than 11 million in need in 2017 but still means that there are many people in crisis. Due to the decrease in need, the U.N. requested $416 million less for emergency response aid in 2018. The U.N. still needs $569 million to make this one of the best-funded programs, but humanitarians and agencies are still concerned about donor fatigue.

As mentioned above, nearly four million refugees and internally displaced people (IDP) have returned to Iraq in the past four years. The U.N. and Iraqi government believed that more refugees would return after the Islamic State was ousted from Iraq. Their prediction was that most people would come home by the end of 2018.

However, people are returning at a far slower pace than expected meaning more Iraqis will need help for a longer period than organizations and donors are prepared for. Some refugees have even come back to camps after they realized that there were none to little opportunities for them in their hometowns. Camps in some areas such as Mosul, that had over 820,000 people displaced, are seeing higher rates of new arrivals than rates of people that are leaving.

From Emergency Aid to Reconstruction

Donors have not completely lost interest in providing foreign aid to Iraq but the focus has changed from humanitarian assistance and emergency aid to reconstruction. Instead of supporting individuals and their needs, aid is being used to rebuild the country and help it recover with infrastructure.

In February 2018, the U.N. began the two-year, Iraq Recovery and Resilience Program, the program that aims at bettering people’s lives by providing reconstruction and infrastructure reforms. The idea is that the country will become more stable and peaceful if communities are rebuilt and provided with bridges, roads, schools and hospitals. The government also has high hopes for this program as well and believes that it will make Iraqis more confident and trustful of their abilities.

Realistic Needs of People

This sounds great but the underlying reason why people are coming back to the country so slowly and often return to camps is the lack of job opportunities and places to live. Basic needs need to be met before great results can be seen from infrastructure programs and emergency aid such as food is still vitally important.

Humanitarians are concerned as many refugees have stated that they will no be able to survive without the food, shelter and support that they have received from aid organizations in the past.

As fighting in Iraq has dwindled, the country has received less and fewer media coverage. It is important that the global aid community does not forget the millions of Iraqis still in need and that donors continue to provide emergency foreign aid in Iraq directed to providing basic human needs.

Alexandra Eppenauer

Photo: Flickr