Inflammation and stories on iraq

Switzerland helps IraqIn June 2021, Switzerland contributed $1.1 million to the World Food Programme (WFP) to assist hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Iraqi people as well as Syrian refugees in Iraq. These vulnerable groups of people struggle with food insecurity and have little access to income-generating opportunities. Switzerland helps Iraq by providing funding to the WFP to secure immediate needs and support the Urban Livelihoods projects.

Funding From Switzerland

The finance from Switzerland partially funds Urban Livelihoods projects. The initiative assists and trains around 135,000 people by helping them create businesses and employment opportunities that will provide a sustainable income, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Along with the Urban Livelihoods projects, funding from Switzerland supports the WFP in providing monthly food assistance to struggling families and refugees. The WFP uses mobile cash transfers and electronic vouchers to enable families to buy food from markets. In 2021, due to the added impacts of the pandemic, the WFP increased the amount of monthly cash assistance. In cases of “sudden displacement,” the organization “also provides ready-to-eat food packages to support families before they can access a market.”

Refugees in Iraq by the Numbers

As of February 2021, 329,500 refugees live in Iraq. The refugee population in Iraq consists of:

  • Roughly 241,650 Syrian people.
  • About 40,850 refugees from countries besides Syria.
  • An estimated 47,000 stateless individuals.

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq hosts almost all of the country’s Syrian refugees. Urban areas host 60% of the refugees, while other refugees reside in nine refugee camps in Kurdistan.

The Syrian Civil War

Pro-democratic protests began in Syria in March 2011. Demonstrations against “high unemployment, corruption and limited political freedom” began after several surrounding countries protested similar conditions. President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian government met the protests with lethal force, which further increased the push for his resignation. As tensions rose, protesters armed themselves, initially in self-defense, and eventually, to drive out security forces.

As unrest continued, the government’s response intensified. Assad continued to use violence as he strove to end what he termed “foreign-backed terrorism.” Rebel groups emerged and the conflict turned into a civil war. Foreign countries took sides, sending ammunition and armed forces to either the Syrian government or the rebels. The conflict worsened as jihadist entities such as al-Qaeda became involved. The Syrian Civil War continues to this day, with more than 380,000 documented deaths by December 2020 and hundreds of thousands of people missing.

Switzerland’s Relationship With Iraq

Iraq and Switzerland share a positive relationship that continues to strengthen. Switzerland helps Iraq with projects focusing on “migration and peacebuilding” as well as stability. In October 2020, Switzerland established the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Strategy for Swiss focus in the region. Switzerland will follow the strategy until 2024, and thereafter, the plan will be reassessed. The strategy prioritizes five themes:

  1. Peace-building, security and human rights.
  2. Migration and safeguarding vulnerable people.
  3. Sustainable development in the region.
  4. “Economic affairs, finance and science.”
  5. Digitalization and the latest technologies.

In Iraq specifically, Switzerland focuses on “peace, security and human rights; migration and protection of people in need and sustainable development.” Switzerland’s contribution to the WFP covers all three goals as improving local economies is essential to advance these goals.

Urban Livelihoods Projects

Switzerland helps Iraq and the WFP by funding Urban Livelihoods projects that assist “up to 68,000 people in Baghdad, Basra, Mosul and Wassit.” People who take part in Urban Livelihoods projects receive a cash stipend if they work on community activities such as clearing public areas, renovating schools, planting trees and recycling.

Smallholder farmers from camps for displaced people are also a focus of the projects because farming can serve as long-term income-creating opportunities. Projects increase the cash flow to local economies, which strengthens the economic resilience of entire communities.

In addition to Switzerland, many more countries also support Urban Livelihoods in Iraq, including Belgium, Canada, Finland, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden. The pandemic made the WFP’s projects even more essential as unemployment increased, making Switzerland’s contribution vital. The WFP calls on the international community to collectively contribute $10.1 million in order for the project to reach as many as 300,000 people in Iraq.

Through the commitment and generosity of countries and organizations, vulnerable people in nations such as Iraq can look toward a potentially brighter tomorrow.

Alex Alfano
Photo: Flickr

child marriage in iraq
Child marriage consists of a formal or an informal union between two participants where at least one participant is younger than 18, according to UNICEF. Forced child marriage mostly occurs in countries where poverty is prevalent such as India, Africa and the Middle East, including Iraq.

Child Marriage Statistics in Iraq

According to The World, a public radio program, Iraq’s gross domestic product (GDP) decreased by $38 million from 2013 to 2017 due to decreasing oil prices and economic collapse in its struggle against ISIS. Many associated the decrease in GDP with an increase in the percentage of child marriages, which rose to 24% in 2016, surpassing the percentage of child marriages in 1997 by 9%. The trends in these percentages indicate that there is a correlation between the percentage of child marriage in Iraq and the country’s economic state.

According to the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), the percentage of women aged 20-24 who married before the age of 18 was 27% in 2018, indicating that the current female population of those married before the age of 18 in Iraq consists of 5.6 million out of 20.7 million women. FIGO also reports that child marriage is more common among impoverished families who reside in rural areas, rather than among wealthy families who live in urban areas. The percentage of child marriages in rural versus urban areas differs by 1%, signifying that approximately 207,000 more young girls enter into early marriage in rural areas than urban areas.

Iraq’s Personal Status Law

Iraq’s Personal Status Law forbids child marriage and increases women’s marriage and custody rights. Despite the sound solidarity of this law, article 8 of Iraq’s Personal Status Law allows for a judge to authorize an underage marriage if the judge concludes that the action is urgently necessary or if the father of the bride gives his approval of the marriage.

Child marriage supporters in Iraq continuously push for proposed amendments to the Personal Status Law to abolish legal difficulties when forcing children into marriage. The parliament in Iraq has rejected these proposals, including an amendment that would allow for families to have their own laws in religious communities, thereby authorizing the families to offer their 8-year-old daughters for marriage.

Article 8 of the Personal Status Law allows a loophole for judges to authorize underage marriages with or without permission from a father, even though the article is noncompliant with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which works to gain equality for women and eliminate patriarchal norms that discriminate against women.

Risks Associated with Child Marriage

Young girls who enter child marriage are not only susceptible to physical health risks including rape, early pregnancy and early delivery, but they are also vulnerable to psychological risks, including experiencing social shielding from their families and domestic violence. Due to substandard responses by officials, violence and rape continue to present themselves as consistent issues in child marriages.

Although Iraq has criminalized rape, the government can drop charges as long as the victim and perpetrator get married. Since Iraq has not criminalized rape between spouses, the government receives few reports of domestic violence issues and families of the two spouses usually discuss resolutions.

Reasons for Child Marriage in Iraq

Oftentimes, families force young female family members into marriage for financial benefit or to settle feuds and make amends with another family. Additionally, the monetary benefits that follow a marriage may reduce an economic burden or provide more income to a family living in poverty. In communities where schools are available for women, families may marry off their daughters earlier to avoid payments for schooling. On the contrary, some parents believe that marrying their daughters early will protect them and ensure that their futures are stable.

Organizations Fighting Child Marriage

In 2016, the United Nations announced an initiative called the Global Programme to End Child Marriage, which has assisted 7.9 million girls from 2016 to 2019. The program increases education and healthcare access for young girls, educates families about the risks of child marriage and supports governments in developing strategies to end child marriage.

Additionally, Girls Not Brides is a program that has committed itself to put an end to child marriage. Girls Not Brides ensures that girls in more than 100 different countries, including countries in the Middle East, are able to achieve their life goals. Girls Not Brides consists of approximately 1,500 member organizations that raise awareness about child marriage, hold governments accountable to create national strategies to end child marriage and share solutions with communities and families. UNICEF reports that the combined efforts of organizations that combat child marriage, including Girls Not Brides, have prevented 25 million arranged child marriages.

The Road Ahead

Child marriage in Iraq is a controversial, ongoing practice despite Iraq’s Personal Status Law that emerged to prevent the occurrence of underage marriage. Young girls in Iraq who enter into marriage provide monetary gain for their families, especially those living in poverty, but experience physical and psychological damage that lasts a lifetime. Organizations such as the United Nations and Girls Not Brides continue to aid victims of child marriage in Iraq by providing healthcare, education and support. Hopefully, with the continued efforts of various NGOs, incidents of child marriage in Iraq will significantly reduce.

– Lauren Spiers
Photo: Flickr

Job Shortage in IraqGetting a college degree in Iraq doesn’t mean that you have a guaranteed job in your field after graduating, let alone a job in any field. The job shortage in Iraq has led to an increase in poverty and has destroyed the dreams of many graduates. This job shortage is an ongoing conflict that impacts the goals of the young generations in Iraq. According to the World Bank, 22% of men and almost 64% of women between 15-24 years are unemployed in Iraq.

Iraq’s Economy

With billions going yearly to its public service, the nation is in an economic vise. It has been estimated that public employees get about 17 minutes of work done every day. Currently, Iraq is the seventh-largest country producing oil, but oil revenue has been decreasing. The nation spends little of the income it generates on potential economic development of the implementation of projects. Iraq is unable to pay its bills due to a lack of funds. This led to a financial meltdown, which resulted in the fall of the government after widespread movements against corruption and unemployment. The marches were centered against high state officials in a community where unemployment hovers about 15% and one in every four people lives in poverty, earning as little as $2.20 per day.

Youth Unemployment

Approximately 700,000 young Iraqis join the employment market every year. A primer published for the World Bank on job development in Iraq listed the youth unemployment rate at 36%. There is no noticeable difference in the rate of unemployment between young people with primary education and those with higher degrees. Because of this, Iraqi youth have been at the frontline of occupation riots in Iraq. Similar to Iran, the country’s poor budget management and corruption have been central to their outrage.

Iraq’s prosperity is largely dependent on its ability to build employment for the young population. This is particularly true of university-educated young people. A study by the World Bank estimates that Iraq needs to increase the number of jobs by 100 to 180% to address its workforce needs sufficiently.

Decent Work Country Programmes (DWCPs)

The International Labor Organization (ILO), together with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs of Iraq (MOLSA), is implementing DWCPs in Iraq. DWCPs are systems for financial guidance that focus on creating jobs through the growth of the private sector. They also assist with the expansion of social security coverage, freedom of association and National Employment Policy design and implementation. In March 2020, in response to a request by MOLSA, the ILO formed the first cooperation department for Iraqi counties in the city of Baghdad. With a budget of $17.5 million, the program is implementing five projects to encourage quality work and increase job opportunities. These projects will help Iraq’s government, employees and employers.

Overall, there are high hopes for the country’s future. The youth are not going to stop demanding change until they get it. With big changes the government is hoping to make in the next decade, there could be a possible decrease in the rate of unemployment.

– Rand Lateef
Photo: Flickr

Rescue Stories from the Nazarene Fund
The Nazarene Fund is an organization that focuses on rescuing people in captivity. This includes victims of sex slavery, the labor trade, organ harvesting and trafficking. The Nazarene Fund trains operators to lead these missions. These operators travel to the Middle East, Africa, Haiti and other regions of the world to rescue people. Here are some of The Nazarene Fund’s rescue stories.

Sonia’s Story

ISIS captured Sonia and her entire family when she was only 4 years old. Her family lived in Wardya, a village in Sinjar. ISIS abducted them from their home in 2014. Sonia became separated from her siblings. Later, traffickers imprisoned her in Mosul. Additionally, a family bought Sonia in Mosul nine months later. This family treated her as a slave during the five years they held her captive. The family and Sonia disappeared after ISIS’s defeat in Mosul. Thus, the Nazarene Fund launched a search mission for Sonia. Eventually, the organization found her in an orphanage in Mosul and reunited her with her already rescued family.

Halima’s Story

The second of The Nazarene Fund’s rescue stories has to do with Halima, a 22-year-old Yazidi woman. Traffickers abducted Halima in Turkey. She spent six years in captivity until The Nazarene Fund rescued her in July 2020. ISIS fighters kidnapped Halima and 18 relatives from her village in northern Iraq. Halima was only 16 years old. She was then enslaved and suffered from violence, abuse and exploitation for five years. ISIS made its last territorial stand in Baghuz, Syria in 2019. Moreover, Halima resided there along with other Yazidi women and children. Later, traffickers planned to sell her as a slave or harvest her organs. Fortunately, The Nazarene Fund intervened and reunited her with her family.

Mayada’s Story

Mayada Abo Chehwan is a 50-year-old Syrian woman born in the District of Hama. Her husband is a pharmacist and she has two daughters. However, everything changed when ISIS attacked. Bombs destroyed Mayada’s home and her husband’s pharmacy. As a result, they fled their home and sold their belongings to survive. The family spent months in neighboring towns and in Lebanon. They eventually returned home. However, the shelling of the town forced the family to flee again. Thus, they sought refuge in Iraq.

One of her daughters was diagnosed with diabetes and the other with severe anxiety. Meanwhile, her husband became partially paralyzed from heart disease. The daughters experienced sexual harassment and threats that others would sell them sex slavery while they searched for jobs. Mayada was becoming desperate. Thankfully, The Nazarene Fund operatives successfully relocated the family to housing in a safe area and provided them with the care and assistance they needed. The Nazarene Fund operatives continue to support the family and are helping them immigrate to Australia.

These are just a few of The Nazarene Fund’s rescue stories. The organization strives to help people who are in desperate need of assistance. Its goal is to rescue people who cannot help themselves and assist them in maintaining a safe, healthy life.

– Marcella Teresi
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in Iraq
In 2008, Gola told her story of female genital mutilation in Iraq to reporters with The Human Rights Watch. It was a story of silent pain. “My family took me and told me nothing, I never went to the doctors, my family was never concerned.”

About Female Genital Mutilation

Female genital mutilation or FGM has been going on for centuries. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines FGM as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”

Iraq’s older generations believe that cutting a woman’s clitoris will ensure the preservation of her virginity and push the prevalent practice of female genital mutilation in Iraq. Additionally, the women do not receive any anesthesia beforehand. FGM consists of three types including type one which is the removal of the labia minora and the labia major, the protective layers surrounding the vaginal orifice. Meanwhile, type two is the removal of the clitoris and the labia minora and type three is the narrowing of the vaginal orifice. However, all reproductive parts of a woman are important to her maintaining physical and mental health, and expulsion of one or more of these parts puts women’s lives at risk.

FGM is a silent practice that has been going on for decades. Female genital mutilation in Iraq occurs across Iraq without religious, lawful or ethical reasoning. Mutilation begins on girls as young as 3 although grown women may also experience it.

Solutions

Wadi, an NGO, finds solutions for women in crisis. In early 2004, Wadi began visiting villages after learning of the high number of women that FGM affects. After interviewing several women in the area, it found that 907 out of the 1,544 women it questioned were victims of FGM. Wadi has launched a campaign to educate women about the harmful consequences of FGM. In 2011, the parliament of the Kurdish region passed a bill banning domestic violence against women thus banning FGM. However, even though the Kurdish region has banned this practice, women’s voices are continuing to cry out against it to prevent future injustices.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

In July 2012, Wadi launched an FGM hotline to provide social, mental, medical and reproductive advice to FGM-affected women throughout the region. By mainstreaming gender rights and working on educational programs, Iraq should be able to make headway to eradicate FGM. To fully eliminate this practice, the Wadi team began to visit local villages and midwives to educate them that these mutilations do not preserve a woman’s virginity, the wounds are not self-healing and the practice causes harm that is often permanent. Hadiya, who experienced FGM at the age of 5-years-old, spoke of pain 20 years after the mutilation occurred. FGM can cause infertility, incontinence, complications in labor and even death.

 

With all endings come new beginnings. Iraq has been the home to unlawful practices and prevalent mistreatment of women, but women are steadily pushing back to reclaim their freedom and honor. Some who have undergone FGM are now refusing to let their daughters experience the same fate, disallowing their clerics from approving practices of FGM. They band together in face of an ancient ritual that tears the body apart. Gola told her story so that women born after her will not have to tell theirs.

– Nancy Taguiam
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Reduction in Iraq
The Middle East has been one of the world’s hardest-hit regions to date when it comes to COVID-19. Unfortunately, Iraq has bared the brunt of the damage resulting from economic recession and humanitarian woes. Since the summer of 2019, four and a half million Iraqis have fallen into extreme poverty, increasing the total poverty rate to over 11 million. The majority of those falling into poverty are children, with reports claiming two out of every five children in Iraq live in desolate conditions. Nevertheless, despite new challenges, the international community and regional actors are preparing to jump-start new innovations to reduce poverty in Iraq.

Previous Progress

Over the past ten years, Iraq has undergone a series of changes. In 2015, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) outlined a series of initiatives designed to reduce Iraq’s poverty and hunger. From creating job opportunities to building a more robust social safety net, the CFS set the groundwork for crucial innovations to reduce poverty in Iraq.

Additionally, in 2018, Iraq worked with regional and international partners such as the World Bank to introduce a $300 million social fund designed to reduce poverty and inspire sustainable development.

While previous efforts are laudable, in the wake of COVID-19 and the recent economic recession, global and local actors need to do more to reduce Iraqi poverty. This is especially true when considering how, in 2020 alone, Iraqi poverty was expected to double to 40% of the population.

Poverty Reduction Innovations for Refugees

In an effort to reduce poverty in Iraq, many international and regional actors have banded together to create innovative approaches. For instance, the UN Agency on Refugees (UNHRC) recently launched the WASH program. The WASH program sets up water sanitation systems in vulnerable refugee camps, Iraq hosting many of them. According to the UNHRC, “The system uses a series of networked, ultra-sonic water-level sensors that are installed in the tanks of water delivery trucks as well as static water tanks in refugee settlements to provide real-time data on water deliveries and consumption. It is based on the “Internet of Things”. Physical objects are fitted with sensors in order to connect and exchange data over the Internet.

The system maximizes inter-regional coordination and saves Iraq money, all while minimizing the effect of Iraqi poverty. Although widespread across other countries, WAHS chose Iraq as one of the ‘pilot phase’ countries. They are thus allowing Iraq to harness the findings and help one of it’s largest sources of poverty, refugees.

While crumbling infrastructure and lack of access to food are primary causes of poverty, the inability to care for Iraqi refugees has hindered any development progress. In essence, in order to reduce poverty in Iraq, one must also consider poverty amongst Iraqi refugees.

Innovating Through Technology

Another innovation in poverty reduction is a medical app design to connect Iraqis to affordable medications. The military conflict in Iraq has destroyed numerous hospitals, so medical care in the country is exceedingly scarce. This lead Ameen Hadeed and developer Ammar Alwazzan to create the Pharx Pharmacy app. The app connects patients to over 200 Iraqi pharmacies. This eliminates the private medical middle man that makes drugs so expensive. Moreover, the Iraq Response Innovation Lab recently decided to sponsor the future development of the Pharx app. This will allow it to expand all across the country, far beyond urbanized areas such as Mosul.

As technological innovations become more frequent in Iraq, the fight against poverty is a primary focus for tech innovators. Take, for example, Miswag, the Middle East’s oldest online market platform. Miswag has recently taken a new direction in Iraq. They made it more affordable to buy food, groceries, clothing, books, and many other daily necessities. While initially Miswag was not explicitly designed for poverty alleviation, its growing market of 700,000 customers makes goods more affordable while allowing locals to sell their products more efficiently, which helps innovate the fight against poverty.

Looking Forward

Building more robust markets that encourage investment and innovation is crucial to continue poverty reduction in Iraq. It will also ensure sustainable growth for the long-term. Poverty is not a simple problem, and Iraq has weathered many conflicts in the past couple of years. However, if we all work together, we can make a difference.

Juliette Reyes
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Iraq
Suicide rates in Iraq are on the rise in 2020, primarily among members of communities struggling to find employment, resources, political peace and aid during the ravage of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Yazidi people, a Kurdish religious minority group, are facing an unprecedented rise in suicide rates as they relive the trauma that the 2014 ISIS raids caused in their hometowns. Here is some information about mental health in Iraq including the relationship between suicide rates, mental health and COVID-19 among the Yazidi people of Iraq.

Who are the Yazidi People?

Yazidi refers to a member of a small, monotheistic, semi-ancient religion based in Northern Iraq, Northern Syria and some parts of Turkey. The Yazidi people have been the target of various religious persecutions since their beginnings, most recently in the 2014 raids by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS.) They tend to live in isolation as they observe a strict philosophy on religious purity, thus driving them away from contact with members outside of their religious community.

Why is Suicide Prevalent in the Yazidi Community?

The majority of suicides among the Yazidi people result from poor living conditions in Internal Displacement Camps in the northern corner of Iraq. Still, the living conditions alone are not to blame. The combination of psychological trauma from ISIS captivity and limited access to basic psychological services, due to the stigma around mental health in Iraq, has unfortunately led many Yazidi people, primarily women, to search for suicide as an answer to their suffering.

How is COVID-19 Impacting Suicide Rates?

With unemployment, depression, isolationism and abuse at all-time highs during the pandemic, people across the world are leaning to harmful actions, such as suicide, as a form of relief.

Dr. Mark Reger, Chief of Psychology Services at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle, states that the pandemic, along with civil unrest and economic struggles, produces a “perfect storm” for suicide risk. Among Yazidi people specifically, though, COVID-19 is causing many to relive the nightmares that the ISIS invasions caused. For many, the isolation and fear caused by either the loss of jobs or by social distancing remind them of the sleepless nights they spent in fear of kidnapping, murder or rape by members of ISIS in the 2014 attacks.

The lack of services to treat mental health in Iraq may have influenced suicide risk among the Yazidi people. There are currently only 80 active psychologists in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan, while 70% of Iraqi citizens who self-report mental distress have suicidal thoughts. Despite this data being about a decade old, one can surmise that mental health in Iraq worsened over the last decade although researchers have had a difficult time updating statistics due to political restrictions.

Solutions

The following organizations are positively impacting mental health in Iraq and Yazidi communities through raising awareness, providing treatment traditionally unavailable to the community and offering financial assistance for intervention.

  1. Dak Organization for Women Development: The Dak Organization for Women Development assists in raising awareness for issues plaguing Yazidi women and girls. For example, it has initiated the 16 Days Against Violence Against Women event, which involves the holding of meetings, workshops and community-based groups to open up the conversation and discuss ways to implement change. This organization also offers psychological support for the Yazidi communities by providing support groups including ones specifically for women.
  2. Back to Life: Back to Life provides rehabilitation and treatment centers for Yazidi women and girls struggling with PTSD or other mental issues due to the actions of ISIS. In 2019 alone, it has helped more than 597 young adults or children receive psychological support and brought empowerment to more than 1,270 Yazidi women through sewing workshops.

Attention to mental health in Iraq is necessary considering the country’s recent challenges and the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully, through continued support, mental health among Yazidi communities will improve.

– Johnnie Walton
Photo: Flickr

 

Seeds of Hunger in Iraq
Security conditions in Iraq have gradually improved since the defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) at the end of 2017. However, significant challenges persist as the nation struggles with political instability, social unrest, economic volatility and low standards of living. With the poverty rate at a steady 23%, Iraqis are in need of humanitarian assistance to fight the next uprising – hunger. In 2016, data collection concluded that 53% of Iraqi residents and 66% of internally displaced people are vulnerable to food insecurity. Current social conditions are sowing the seeds for hunger in Iraq, but the potential exists for future improvement.

ISIL and Current Conditions

The nation is facing a multifaceted food security challenge, as the years it spent under ISIL’s military campaigns exacerbated issues such as limited water supply, damaged homes and disrupted food production. Water shortages and the lack of affordable agricultural inputs continue to negatively affect the performance of Iraq’s large farming sector. Additionally, families are reporting limited livelihood opportunities, reducing their purchasing power and restricting their access to the public distribution system – a social safety net program.

With the insurgent infiltration, Iraq lost the majority of its annual wheat and barley harvests, which had once combined to contribute to over one-third of the nation’s cereal production. Moreover, ISIL expropriated over 1 million tons of wheat in 2015 and left it to rot, worsening food insecurity in Iraq. The remaining farmers are unable to harvest their crops due to issues like lack of machinery or fuel, unexploded mines in their fields and inter-ethnic retribution. If farmers and herders experience displacement or are unable to venture to their fields, the future of agricultural production will remain bleak and have strong implications for long-term food security.

The Future of Food Insecurity

Experts expect that food security conditions will keep deteriorating due to the high volume of internally displaced persons (IDPs) straining hosting communities. As of 2019, almost 2 million people remain displaced in Iraq, and over 245,000 Syrian refugees are living in or have fled toward cities in the northern Kurdish region of Iraq. Furthermore, a renewed COVID-19 surge in the Middle East will further test the resilience of Iraq and neighboring countries, as the pandemic could lead 265 million people to suffer from “acute food insecurity, which requires urgent food, nutrition, and livelihoods assistance for survival.”

Therefore, the United Nations is calling on governments, non-government organizations and donors to address the “availability, access and affordability of safe and nutritious foods and protect the nutrition of … vulnerable families.” For instance, the World Food Programme (WFP) is helping Iraq’s most vulnerable people strengthen their capacities to absorb, adapt and transform in the face of shocks and long-term stressors. WFP has been operating in Iraq since 1968, providing emergency food assistance and aiding the government with social service reforms. With millions of displaced Iraqis and IDPs, the WFP is providing monthly food assistance to 1.5 million displaced people across all 18 districts through cash assistance and monthly family rations.

As the humanitarian crisis endures, millions of families living in protracted displacement situations are reaching a breaking point. These families are continuing to face constrained access to basic services and critical protection risks and are in desperate need of life-saving aid.

Cultivating Progress

However, the Iraqi government has proven ineffective in resolving hunger in Iraq as it struggles to reconcile current social and economic unrest. Proactive policy-making and international aid are essential to halting the impending vicious cycle that starts with hunger and feeds back into the protracted conflict. Rather than sowing the seeds for hunger in Iraq, governments and humanitarian organizations alike have the power to cultivate hope for thousands.

– Carlie Chiesa
Photo: Flickr

Electricity in Iraq
The electricity shortage in Iraq is a major problem for ordinary citizens. Since the fall of the Saddam regime, the government has been unable to keep up with demands for electricity, a particularly painful issue during the summer’s crushing heat. The failure began when agencies of coalition forces took control of Iraq after the disposition of Saddam. A 2011 report by the United Nations indicated that the daily demand for electricity in Iraq was 6,400 MVV, while the supply of output was 4,470, creating a supply gap. “Moreover, during the summer, it was reported that demand would frequently go up in the range of 6,600 to 7,500 MVV. As a result, up to 40% of electricity demand was not being met during these critical times when people were suffering.

Understanding the Electricity Shortage

The electricity shortage in Iraq exists for many reasons. The first comes from the damages inflicted on the country over the course of various wars and invasions. A 2007 Government Accountability Office report indicated that due to the damage of the Gulf War, the production of electricity in Iraq dropped from 5,100 megawatts to 2,300 megawatts. After 2003, Iraq’s energy and electric infrastructure underwent a series of attacks from non-state actors such as Al-Qaida in Iraq (known today as the Islamic State).

Another challenge to accessing electricity in Iraq is corruption and illegal activity. Approximately half of Iraq’s national budget went into paying the salaries of civil servants. The IMF estimated that Iraq would need $88 billion for reconstruction and infrastructure alone; nearly $50 billion is going to the salaries of government employees. Electricity in Iraq is often dependent on oil revenues. U.S. State Department reports indicated that up to 30% of Iraq’s refined fuels go into the black market. There is also widespread mismanagement and mishandling of the infrastructure that provides electricity. The country loses between 30-50% of electricity in Iraq due to inadequate systems of energy. For example, some of Iraq’s electricity is sourced from power plants that date back to the 1980s and are unable to meet the massive energy demands that people expect them to.

Effects on the Ground

How does this affect the working class of Iraq? Not everyone can afford a private generator—a now booming business in Iraq that closes the gap between public demands and government deliverables. Buying those private electricity services is simply not an option for many of Iraq’s poor, which makes life extremely intolerable for these families. Some have reported that they cannot use a fridge, wash clothes or even store food without it going bad overnight. These conditions of corruption, political gridlock and poor living conditions are the cause of massive protests in southern Iraq, one of the country’s poorest regions. The heat only fuels the anger of the protestors.

Finding Solutions

While the situation might seem hopeless, there are those working on solutions to the problem. In 2019, the government announced plans to privatize electricity, which could combat the issue by reducing the deficit and stimulating economic growth. Others suggest that addressing problems directly might alleviate conditions. They suggest tackling the country’s corruption and reliance on unreliable infrastructure. Oil energy production is also a solution that can bankroll the electricity demands.

The most important thing is to ensure the efficient use of these resources and to prevent their trade on the black market. Some of the country’s neighbors are also helping provide electricity. The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (including Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) are moving forward on a deal to provide electricity to Iraq and distance it from the Iranian supply. Regardless of political implications, the effort is still helping Iraq manage its electricity shortage.

Mustafa Ali
Photo: Flickr

Yazidi CommunitiesHaving been targeted by ISIL during its military campaign in 2014, the Yazidis have gained significant international attention over recent years. However, few knew much about the importance of Yazidi communities to the overall stability in Iraq before their genocide.

Who Are the Yazidis?

The Yazidis are a Kurdish-speaking minority located primarily in northern Iraq, where about 400,000 lived as of 2014. They have traditionally kept to themselves but experienced ethnic and religious persecution from both Saddam Hussein’s regime over the years as well as ISIL most recently. Such oppression crippled Yazidi communities as their members dealt with the economic fallout and social setbacks resulting from trauma. The novel coronavirus poses a new threat, and the consequences for peace and security in Iraq will be manifold — especially if the Yazidis are excluded from Iraq’s COVID-19 economic recovery strategy.

The COVID-19 Crisis

The spread of COVID-19 has hurt Iraq and its people on a grand scale, as it has in the rest of the world. Yet, despite a low number of cases in northern Iraq, Yazidi communities have been disproportionately affected by the virus due to safety measures taken by the Iraqi government. In Sinjar, where many Yazidis in Iraq live, most of the working population must travel for jobs located outside of the city or are farmers who rely on visiting other cities to sell their crops. However, this way of life is no longer possible under the imposed movement restrictions. Yazidis cannot leave Sinjar for employment, and farmers cannot travel to other cities. Therefore, many Yazidi communities have essentially lost all means of income.

The emergency measures have also adversely impacted the Yazidis on the healthcare front, as access to healthcare has been reduced. Those requiring medical attention can only receive it four hours away in Mosul, taking an ambulance so that they can cross various checkpoints throughout the province. Along with the long trip, some Yazidis do not seek treatment in Mosul because of the language barrier. These factors have further ostracized the Yazidis economically and socially, thus risking an increase in regional poverty.

The Resurgence of Poverty and of ISIL

Poverty’s resurgence in Yazidi communities because of the novel coronavirus has myriad implications for peace and security within the Middle East. In addition to trauma following the end of ISIL’s occupation of Yazidi land, the pandemic has created a mental health crisis within Yazidi communities. Those who previously received counseling at mental health facilities are no longer able to obtain that help due to COVID-19. Some experts are even predicting that 25% of Yazidis will require mental health care after the pandemic subsides.

Others have raised concerns surrounding the return of ISIL during this period of instability. Iraq’s government has acted on this issue militarily and can continue to fight ISIL’s revival by providing economic aid and building necessary healthcare infrastructure in Yazidi communities.

Humanitarian Solutions and NGOs

Ultimately, northern Iraq’s stability will not be achieved through military success alone. The long-term solution will be humanitarian. Following the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as developing better infrastructure, will lead to extraordinary progress on other pressing problems in Iraq, like reducing poverty and improving health.

Giving non-governmental organizations, like Yazda, a bigger role in community building is another way to strengthen Yazidi societies. Yazda focuses on helping Yazidis in various ways. It has already helped thousands obtain mobile medical services in addition to providing hundreds of mental health and socioeconomic assistance and supporting hundreds more in their pursuit of criminal justice.

For now, Baghdad is focused on reopening its urban and economic centers. However, including Yazidi communities in the reopening process during and after COVID-19, as well as supporting them to become more resilient in tumultuous conditions, will be crucial in preventing future conflicts and eliminating poverty in Iraq.

Alex Berman
Photo: Flickr