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Poverty in Iraq
About 22% of Iraqis live in poverty. Poverty in Iraq is a dynamic issue, the facets of which have changed with the country’s progress and efforts at modernization. Urbanization and the discovery of vast oil reserves have adversely impacted Iraqis with corruption and conflict driving poverty rates up. The following are four exceedingly relevant facts about poverty in Iraq and what the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a nongovernmental organization that emerged in 1933 to respond to international humanitarian crises, has done to help since entering Iraq in 2003.

4 Facts About Poverty in Iraq

  1. Urbanization and Food Shortages: Recent conflict and economic change have caused Iraqis to concentrate in urban areas. Iraq is 70.7% urbanized and is nearly unrecognizable in comparison to its agricultural past. Poor agricultural policies have catalyzed this shift toward urbanization and overcrowding in cities. This, combined with military and economic crises, has resulted in as many as one in six households experiencing some form of food insecurity. Iraq has a universal food ration program called the Public Distribution System (PDS), which is its most extensive social assistance program, but it has not been enough. Many Iraqis who have either lost access to the PDS or find that it does not cover enough, have turned to humanitarian agencies like the IRC for aid. Since 2003, the IRC has helped hundreds of thousands of people: in 2018 alone, it assisted 95,000 Iraqis, providing financial, familial, educational and professional support.
  2. Corruption and Oil: According to Transparency International, Iraq is the 13th most corrupt country. The Iraqi government often subsidizes inefficient state industries, which has led many Iraqis to view government and business leaders as corrupt. With the rise in oil prices over the past decades, Iraq’s government had sufficient funds to complete significant reconstruction and aid projects. However, poverty in Iraq has not improved. The oil sector provides an estimated 85 to 95% of government revenue. High-level corruption in Iraq impedes the development of private, non-oil business sectors, spurring overdependence on oil. Protests were rampant in 2019 with Iraqis indignant that their economy was flush with oil money but their government was too corrupt to provide basic services. Average Iraqi citizens never see oil profits due to the corrupt nature of the Iraqi government, which empowers politicians through informal agreements and patronage. Leaders hand out government jobs to build their support networks and stifle dissent, making the public sector inefficient and draining oil profits such that there is little left over for investment in social programs. While federal social programs are lacking and corruption is still serious, NGOs like the IRC have stepped in to pick up the slack and somewhat lighten the suffering of many Iraqis.
  3. Poverty and Unemployment: Roughly 95% of young Iraqis believe they need strong connections to those in power in order to obtain employment. Overall, unemployment is at 11% with one-third of Iraqi youths unemployed and 22% of the population living in poverty. The aforementioned protests in 2019 involved young Iraqis frustrated at being unable to find work, and projections determine that unemployment and poverty will worsen even further in 2020. The United Nations expects the poverty rate to double to around 40%, with monthly oil revenues falling from $6 to 1.4 billion between February and April 2020 due to the recent collapse in global oil prices. To combat these figures, the International Rescue Committee has provided over 40,000 people with emergency supplies, business training and funding to help Iraqis rebuild their lives.
  4. War and Internal Displacement: Conflict with ISIS led to the displacement of over 6 million Iraqis from 2014 to 2017, and about 1.5 million Iraqis remain in camps despite the recent territorial defeat of the terrorist organization. The rise and conquest of ISIS was a primary driver behind the increase of the poverty rate to the current level of 22%, with forced displacement and brutal violence leading to the destruction of Iraqi homes, assets and livelihoods. The above factors have struck internally displaced persons (IDPs) the hardest — few IDPs have employment and most have to support an average of six other members in their household. On top of all this is the fact that many IDPs have lost access to what little the PDS food program does supply, illustrating the true humanitarian challenge of poverty in Iraq. While the displacement and refugee issue is still serious today, the International Rescue Committee has aided over 20,900 women and girls to recover from the violence, providing hope for a battered people.

Despite expansive oil profits flooding into the Iraqi system, this money does not reach ordinary Iraqis who struggle to provide for their families. The failure of urbanization, stark unemployment and violent conflict with ISIS have exacerbated the lack of action from corrupt business and political leaders to address the systemic issue of poverty.

Experts expect global poverty to worsen during the current COVID-19 pandemic, especially in Iraq. Combined with the recent crash in oil prices, this will likely lead to serious unrest in a country that has struggled for decades to bring about some semblance of effective governance. Despite the ongoing issues that these four facts about poverty in Iraq show, hope continues to live on thanks to organizations like the IRC that are able to provide aid.

Connor Bradbury
Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

Children with Developmental Disabilities
Across all countries, 20.4 percent of children have at least one developmental disability. In developed countries like the U.S., many schools have resources for children with developmental disabilities, but in countries where a solid implementation of an education system is struggling to find a foothold, people with learning disabilities often face an additional, invisible hurdle.

Medical professionals conducted a study that screened populations for developmental disabilities throughout the world. A developmental disability is a type of disability that occurs before adulthood. Some of these are learning disabilities, but all of them impact a child during the prime educational years. The study first sorted countries based on HDI (Human Development Index) a score the U.N. gives to countries according to life expectancy, education and gross domestic product (GDP). In general, this means that countries with higher HDI are more developed, and those with lower HDI are less developed.

Out of a pool of 16 countries, this study included 101,250 children averaging 5 years of age. The countries with the highest number of children with developmental disabilities include Thailand, Bangladesh and Iraq.

Thailand has an HDI of 0.755, Bangladesh has one of 0.608 and Iraq has one of 0.685. For scale, Norway has the highest HDI at 0.953. Thailand ranks 83rd in the world for high human development (though still developing), whereas Bangladesh and Iraq lay in the “medium developed” range.

Thailand 

The study concluded that Thailand had 12,911 children with a developmental disability. In Thailand, communities, professional groups and other social institutions provide education and learning centers, which serve as Thailand’s primary agents of education. Thailand has separate schools available for children with developmental disabilities. Thailand gives other resources, like communicative devices, to children with disabilities to aid in education. Thailand has different classifications of disabilities, like intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities and behavioral disorders, and different sorts of schooling options available to accommodate these different groups. The parents and the children can choose which system they would like to use, and it is available as a lifelong educational resource for them.

The Education for Development Foundation (EDF), founded in 1987, started a scholarship in 2003 with the intention of making education more accessible to children with developmental disabilities. This scholarship aims to support the physical, social and emotional development of Thai youth. To qualify, candidates must already demonstrate a certain level of communicative and learning ability.

Bangladesh 

The study also found that in Bangladesh, there were 36,987 children with developmental disabilities. It also determined that the rate of enrollment for a primary school in Bangladesh was 97 percent, but only 11 percent of disabled children received any sort of education.

Approaching education with respect to disabilities, methodical diagnosing and treating physical ailments is not possible. A child’s environment has a larger role in deciding how a disability might appear. As such, many early childhood education specialists recommend an approach that relies more on the stage of development the child is in to see what children with disabilities are capable of learning. Similar to how Thailand’s education system handles children with disabilities, Bangladesh has different types of schools to choose from. Unfortunately, that sort of data is not readily available or consistent.

Many international efforts to improve educational and social infrastructure have aimed to support the needs of children with developmental disabilities in impoverished countries. As a result of the UNESCO Declaration on Education for All (1990), the Dakar Framework (2000) and the Salamanca Declaration on Inclusive Education (1994), Bangladesh is working to offer children with developmental disabilities an inclusive education alongside able-bodied children.

While this sentiment does bring the needs of children with developmental disabilities to light, it is not sufficient in clearing various obstacles that arise. One study surveyed educators on the barriers of educating children with disabilities. The results were that 11 out of 15 respondents answered ‘yes’ to a lack of the proper instruments and learning materials.

Iraq

The study showed that Iraq had 11,163 children with developmental disabilities. Malnutrition, an issue in many developing countries, can inhibit cognitive development, leading to learning disabilities and difficulties.

Further, one in three children suffers from an iodine deficiency in the Iraq and Afghanistan areas. This deficiency can result in a slew of health issues including goiter, learning difficulties and severe mental impairment in the worst cases. Statistics have shown that this environmental factor contributes to the rate of mentally disabled individuals. This adds pressure on Iraq to determine adequate educational accommodations for children with developmental disabilities.

Although, since the Iraqi society is advancing technologically, there are diverse ways to deliver education to children. This means that a wider range of people can receive education, including children with developmental disabilities. The United Nations Children’s Fund launched a series of e-projects in an attempt to standardize accessible, inclusive learning. These projects were available to all students – disabled or otherwise. About 4,000 schools had access to these e-projects, not only making education accessible to all but also providing equity to education.

Solutions

Disabled Peoples’ International (DPI), established in 1981, works on behalf of all disabled individuals to give them a proper place in education, the workforce and society alongside able-bodied counterparts. DPI is active in 139 countries and seven regions, including Africa, Asia and the Middle East. DPI also develops educational materials, promotes the rights of disabled people and collects data on disability issues.

In working with MPhasiS F1 Foundation, the organization is creating a Global Youth with Disabilities Network. This network will advocate for the representation of children with developmental disabilities throughout all levels of decision-making. The organization plans to ensure these youths have access to public transportation, health care, education and employment opportunities.

Catherine Lin
Photo: Flickr

5 Mental Health Effects of the Yazidi Genocide
In the past few years, the Yazidi populations of northern Iraq and northern Syria have faced forced migration, war, the enslavement of women and girls and genocide. These traumatic events have resulted in several, severe psychological problems among Yazidis. A lack of adequate treatment and a prolonged sense of threat compounds the five mental health effects of the Yazidi genocide.

The Yazidis, a Kurdish religious minority, practice a non-Abrahamic, monotheistic religion called Yazidism. When the so-called Islamic State declared a caliphate in Iraq and Syria, it specifically targeted the Yazidis as non-Arab, non-Sunni Muslims. ISIS has committed atrocities against the Yazidis to the level of genocide, according to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC); these crimes included the enslavement of women and girls, torture and mass killings. This violence caused many Yazidis to suffer from severe mental health disorders.

5 Mental Health Effects of the Yazidi Genocide

  1. Disturbed Sleep: According to a study by Neuropsychiatrie, 71.1 percent of Yazidi refugee children and adolescents have reported difficulty sleeping due to the trauma they have experienced. These sleeping problems include trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep and nightmares. Children are afraid that if they fall asleep they will not wake up again. Importantly, disturbed sleep will worsen other problems, such as anxiety.
  2. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: PTSD is one common mental illness that the Yazidi genocide caused. According to the European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 42.9 percent of those studied met the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis. Women and men experienced traumatic stress differently. Women with PTSD were more likely to show symptoms such as “flashbacks, hypervigilance, and intense psychological distress.” Men with PTSD more frequently expressed “feelings of detachment or estrangement from others.” Additionally, more women than men reported having PTSD. According to a study that BMC Medicine conducted, 80 percent of Yazidi women and girls who ISIS forced into sex slavery had PTSD.
  3. (Perceived) Social Rejection: Perpetrators of genocide have often employed systematic sexual violence against women to traumatize the persecuted population. In addition to the devastating injuries women experience, they also suffer from several psychological disorders, including PTSD, anxiety, depression and social rejection. Families and communities frequently reject survivors; Yazidi women who suffered enslavement perceive social rejection and exclusion from their communities at high rates. For instance, 40 percent of Yazidi women that BMC interviewed avoid social situations for fear of stigmatization, and 44.6 percent of women feel “extremely excluded” by their community. Social support is a crucial way to alleviate some of the pain from sexual violence and enslavement since rejection from their community magnifies the likelihood that girls will experience depression. Thus, social support, such as community activities organized by schools, can help by decreasing the factors that worsen psychological disorders like depression and by increasing the rate at which girls report instances of sexual violence.
  4. Depression: The Neuropsychiatrie researchers also found that one-third of the children they studied had a depressive disorder. In another study by Tekin et al., researchers found that 40 percent of Yazidi refugees in Turkey suffered from severe depression. Similarly, a 2018 Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF/Doctors without Borders) study in Sinuni found that every family surveyed had at least one member who suffered from a mental illness. The most common problem was depression. As a response to the growing mental health problems among Yazidis, MSF has been providing emergency and maternity services to people at the Sinuni General Hospital since December 2018. MSF has set up mobile mental health clinics for those displaced on Sinjar mountain and provides services such as group sessions for patients. In 2019, MSF health care officials conducted 9,770 emergency room consultations, declared 6,390 people in need of further treatment in the inpatient wards and have helped 475 pregnant women give birth safely. While MSF has increased its health care activities in the region, there are still people on the waiting list to receive treatment.
  5. Suicide: Since the ISIS takeover of the Sinjar region of Northern Iraq, the Yazidis’ historical homeland, the incidents of suicide and suicide attempts among Yazidis have increased substantially according to Médecins Sans Frontières. The methods of suicide or attempted suicide include drinking poison, hanging oneself and drug overdose. Many Yazidis, particularly women, have set themselves on fire. To alleviate this uptick in suicide and other negative mental health effects, MSF increased its presence in the area and offered psychiatric and psychological health care. Since the start of this initiative in late 2018, MSF has treated 286 people, 200 of whom still receive treatment today.

In the aftermath of ISIS’ genocide against the Yazidis of northern Iraq and northern Syria, many survivors have experienced mental health problems stemming from the trauma. These genocidal atrocities will have long-term psychological effects on the Yazidis, but such issues can be mitigated by psychological care. The five mental health effects of the Yazidi genocide outlined above prove the necessity of such health care for populations that have endured genocide and extreme violence.

– Sarah Frazer
Photo: Flickr

 

10 Facts about Corruption in IraqOn October 1st, violent protests broke out in Iraq. The Iraqi government struggled to quell the protests, which resulted in the deaths of more than 60 people. The protesters cite corruption and failing public services as the sources of their outrage against the government. Prime minister Adil Abdul Mahdi responded by claiming that the government is in the process of starting big reforms that will benefit the nation economically and eradicate poverty. However, past instances of corruption have left many protesting Iraqis hesitant to give the government the benefit of the doubt. These 10 facts about corruption in Iraq provide a brief overview of why Iraqis are fed up with their government.

10 Facts about Corruption in Iraq

  1. Transparency International’s corruption index rankings are comprised of 180 countries. Iraq comes in as the eighteenth most corrupt nation. The index measures perceived levels of corruption in the public sector of countries based on ratings by experts and business people.

  2. About a third of Iraqis report having paid a bribe for police services, registry and permits. It is not uncommon for police members to advance in ranks thanks to bribes directed at politicians. Companies with connections to political leaders also benefit more from bribes and kickbacks.

  3. Billions of dollars in public money have been taken due to corruption. In 2013, it was estimated that Iraq “lost” $20 billion to corruption. That is relatively conservative when compared to the $100 billion lost in 2003.

  4. In May, Iraq’s Integrity Commission seized $445,900 from the house of a relative of a former Iraqi official. Iraq’s Integrity Commission found the money while investigating a former Director of the Engineering Department for the Nineveh province. Kickbacks and bribes are rampant in Iraq, and the government is struggling to maintain its integrity.

  5. Iraq’s last Chairman of the Integrity Commission, Judge Ezzat Tawfiq, was killed in a car crash in March. Many Iraqis and members of the commission mourned his death because they supported his work and considered him one of the most important figures in the battle against corruption. Although the car crash was officially categorized as an accident, some Iraqis were quick to question whether foul play was involved given the influence and power of the commission’s adversaries.

  6. Iraqi officials arrested and abused aid workers in Mosul. Some Iraqi officials actively subvert the business of aid workers in the impoverished region. Police have been slandering and detaining individuals by making fictitious claims about them having ties to ISIS. These extortion tactics are aimed at diverting the funds of some organizations to corrupt local authorities.

  7. In September, the Iraqi government had to shut down the nation’s border crossing with Mandali, Iran because of corruption. All of the employees at the location were transferred to different border crossings. An armed group had commandeered the crossing, which generates about 600,000,000 dinars of revenue a month.

  8. In July, 11 ministers and ministerial-level officials were arrested and charged for corruption. In Iraq, members of parliament are considered immune from being charged with corruption charges stemming from their previous work as public officials. Lawmakers must lift this immunity before charges can be brought against those suspected of corruption.

  9. In 2016, Hoshyar Zebari, the former Finance Minister of Iraq, estimated that there were 30,000 ghost soldiers in the Iraqi army. Corrupt officers are able to pocket the money received for the fake soldiers. Some blame the fall of the city of Mosul to ISIS in 2014 on these ghost soldiers because there were far fewer soldiers defending the city than records indicated.

  10. The state-run Basara oil company was accused of corruption for paying two international firms $80,000,000 more than market price for loading equipment. Iraq has one of the largest oil reserves in the world, but the riches it provides are being stolen from the Iraqi people.

These 10 facts about corruption in Iraq provide the backdrop for the protests in Iraq. Many Iraqi executives and public officials are stealing money from those that need it the most. Iraq has won a battle against ISIS, but defeating entrenched corruption may be a more difficult struggle.

Grant DeLisle
Photo: Flickr

 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 Iraq 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