Inflammation and stories on iraq

Child poverty in Iraq
Although the statistics regarding child poverty in Iraq are exceedingly high, specific foundations aimed at finding solutions for this ever-growing issue (particularly, in a post-2020 world) are fairly difficult to come by. The COVID-19 pandemic created even more barriers to education, success and safety for children in Iraq, but the groups that do exist are working to shrink these numbers.

COVID-19’s Effect on Child Poverty in Iraq

 The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically complicated the lives of Iraq’s youngest population in poverty, subjecting parents to make difficult decisions about the education and safety of their children.

About 4.5 million Iraqi citizens fell into poverty after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This extreme increase in numbers has led to “[l]osses to jobs and rising prices[,]” and the national poverty rate is now sitting at 31.7%. Because of this increase, the amount of children that live below the poverty line has almost doubled.

The combination of “low computer ownership, limited access to internet and poor connectivity” had left millions of children without education during the earliest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who could access their classwork, however, were also not receiving adequate education because their educators struggled with similar issues and failed to connect with their students. Following the economic impact of the pandemic, many families in Iraq are sending their children to work or, in more extreme cases, marrying them off in order to gain any form of protection or currency for themselves or their children.

Child Poverty in Iraq and its Connection with Sex Trafficking

Hardships, whether stemming from lack of resources, money, or education, left many children circulating in the ring of sex trafficked victims.

Due to Iraq’s large population, its staggering number of children (47%) are consistently at a greater risk of sexual exploitation. Some children resort to “survival sex” in an attempt to break free from the cycle of abuse that they experience. Examples of “survival sex” include superiors forcing young boys to grant them sexual favors to earn their work wages. Families that find themselves below the poverty line can, in an attempt to “protect” their daughters, marry them off in order to receive a “bride price,” or “an amount of money, property or other form of wealth ‘paid’ to the parents of a woman for the right to marry their daughter.”

The Iraqi Children Foundation

The Iraqi Children Foundation (ICF) is an organization that aims to eradicate these issues. Its mission “to intervene with love and hope in the lives of children who are vulnerable to abuse, neglect, and exploitation by [criminals], traffickers, and extremists,” is possible by providing accessible resources to struggling families. The ICF aims to give every Iraqi child a voice and to restore their sense of worth.

A pair of Americans who worked to provide basic necessities for disadvantaged Iraqi children founded the Iraqi Children Foundation in 2007. Since its creation, the ICF continues to hold an abundance of annual events in order to raise funds and awareness towards the issues facing the population of children in Iraq. In 2022, the Foundation celebrated 10 years of its In Their Shoes 5K, where hundreds of participants walked in Washington, DC to support the benefit project. The ICF’s Annual Report relays that 2021 was its most successful year thus far, nourishing more than 500 children and protecting thousands from abuse and child labor.

– Aspen Oblewski
Photo: Flickr

Hydroponic TechnologyThe only constant in the oil market is its volatility as oil is notorious for its price fluctuation. Prices can increase due to economic growth that raises the demand for oil. Prices can also drop due to shortage fears during unstable conditions, a visible reality with the implications of the Russian-Ukraine war. The Iraqi economy is one of the world’s most oil-reliant economies in the world. Iraq requires international support in order to reach its SDGs, however, misconceptions and traditional practices undermine the potential for mutual benefit among Iraq and other nations. Debates center around whether diversification or transformation of the economy should be a priority. Hydroponic technology allows for the adoption of both strategies at once while satisfying global needs.

A Domino Effect

Oil reserves proceed to deplete. Countries move toward green innovations. The demand for oil continues to drop. The economies of oil-dependent nations that stick to traditional energy sources struggle. Unstable conditions and authoritarian rule take hold. National security is now a greater issue in the United States and other nations. The chaos increases fears of a depleted oil supply. Prices rise, preventing development in developing nations and impeding smooth transition in developed nations. This is the domino effect of oil volatility.

Economic and societal transformations within one nation have rippling effects beyond its borders. In an unprecedently interconnected world, instability in foreign markets, such as Iraq, influences the security and economy within the United States.

The Resource Curse in Iraq

Resource wealth in Iraq, manifesting in the nation holding the world’s fifth-largest oil reserves, correlates with poverty. Oil exports make up more than 90% of its government revenue in 2020, yet Iraq struggles to supply its own population with fuel and electricity. The oil sector only included 1% of the total labor force in 2016 while accounting for 32.2% of its GDP in 2020. Easy revenue reduces incentives for broad-based development, reduces reliance on tax revenue and facilitates corruption.

Increased reliance on natural resource exports is coupled with less growth in the domestic economy and feeds the poverty cycle. For instance, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2021 scores Iraq 23 out of 100 in terms of “perceived level of public corruption,” where zero equates to the highest corruption level. Out of 180 nations, Iraq ranked 157th. Moreover, Iraq lags behind its peers in placing its oil revenue into a sovereign wealth fund. Mismanagement of the oil industry results in most Iraqis not benefiting from the nation’s riches.

Economic Diversification

Many Iraqi livelihoods depend on a high oil price that is never guaranteed. Introducing other industries in Iraq and other one-product economies can encourage sustained investment and employment. Multiple sources of national income help combat issues that arise with volatility. In 2020, Iraq adopted the White Paper for Economic Reform, which aims to place “Iraq’s economy on a path that allows the state to take appropriate steps in the future to develop it into a diversified, dynamic economy.” Yet, such reforms receive attention during economic recessions and get postponed when oil prices and profits are high.

Food Insecurity in Iraq

According to the Sustainable Development Report, in 2019, Iraq scores a value of 37.5 in terms of prevalence of undernourishment, far higher than its oil-exporting peers, such as the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. The SDG tracker reports that “major challenges remain” in meeting life-sustaining dietary requirements in a high percentage of the population. In May 2020, the U.N. approximated that 4.1 million Iraqis need humanitarian aid, including about 920,000 Iraqis suffering from food insecurity.

Hydroponic Technology

The Well Fed Community Garden says, “Hydroponics is the process of growing plants in sand, gravel or liquid with added nutrients but without soil.” Hydroponic systems reduce water use, land requirements and input expenses. Hydroponic technology is working to revive Iraq’s agricultural sector in arid conditions, ultimately serving to diversify Iraq’s economy. Transitioning to this sustainable technique is critical in a world where water shortages become water wars.

An article by Peggy Bradley and Cesar Hernan Marulanda Tabares details that a basic hydroponic garden “can provide enough produce for an average-size family every day.” The writers also detail that the system can provide “about $300 worth of food for only about $30 worth of nutrients” and “uses only 5-10 [%] of the water requirements of soil-based agriculture.”

With more than 800,000 Iraqis enduring hunger each night in 2017, providing locally based self-sustainable agricultural techniques promises greater stability to families in an environment that has a volatile status quo due to oil dependence and conflict.

Hydroponic Successes and Plans in Iraq

Iraq is moving toward making room in its budget for moves toward clean energy and sustainability. The Cabinet proposed in January 2022 “diverting a portion of oil sales for domestic clean energy investments.”

USAID, through the Water and Energy for Food Grand Challenge (WE4F), selected Al Radhwa Solutions and Dhiaa al Alamiyah as two of the winners of the Call of Innovations contest in March 2022. These two hydroponic-based businesses aim for sustainability. The contest winners received a total of $1.5 million to grow their businesses.

Hydroponic technology brings families out of extreme poverty and hunger all while aligning with environmental goals, contributing to stability and fostering bottom-up economic growth. Whether the issue is oil or water depletion, rippling effects impact the entire world. Safety is threatened and business opportunities become opportunity costs when arid economies do not diversify. The U.S. government has the potential to allocate more of its spending toward preemptive sustainability strategies, such as hydroponics.

– Anna Zawistowski
Photo: Pixabay

Period Poverty in Iraq
The debris of war lies heavily in Iraq. The country’s constant conflicts with ISIS, which internal sectarian divides and Kurdish disputes exacerbated, have led to the focus shifting from other vital issues. Period poverty in Iraq —  the lack of access to menstrual hygiene products, water and sanitation facilities and proper knowledge about menstruation — stands as one of these issues.

Taboo About Periods

In most developed countries, talks about puberty and sexual development are normal. In deeply conservative countries like Iraq, however, society considers the topic of menstruation taboo. This leads to not only unpreparedness but also feelings of shame when adolescent girls first start menstruating. In an article that the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) published, Rusul, a young Iraqi woman, opened up about her experience with her first period. She mentioned that she felt confused and afraid, and “thought that she had done something wrong.”

The UNFPA established a Women Social Center in Rusul’s neighborhood a few years after her harrowing experience. The Center hosts educational sessions on issues affecting girls and women, such as menstruation, in order to raise awareness and educate girls on how periods affect them both mentally and physically. By dispelling myths and being open about biological facts, women in Iraq can feel comfortable about their body processes and confident enough to take the steps to maintain proper health and hygiene.

Feelings of fear and embarrassment in relation to periods are even more prevalent among lower-income individuals who have even less access to information and products like sanitary pads. UNICEF believes that by educating girls about menstrual cycles at an early age, the organization can help girls develop healthy menstrual practices. The organization has started work in the North African and Middle East regions to equip people of all genders with the necessary information about menstruation to help address misconceptions, prevent discrimination and reduce stigmas.

In Iraq specifically, one of UNICEF’s ongoing projects aims to develop and strengthen the knowledge of menstrual hygiene management among teachers. By conveying their menstrual knowledge to schoolgirls and normalizing periods, educators will “build confidence and encourage healthy habits” among menstruating girls.

Period Poverty During the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated issues of period poverty in Iraq and throughout the world. The economic recession and supply chain crisis that followed have made menstrual supplies and hygiene products even less accessible, especially for those living in poverty. When girls and women cannot access menstrual products, they often resort to unsanitary methods, such as using dirty clothes or plastic bags to contain the bleeding. Consequently, these girls and women put themselves at risk of infections.

Moreover, during the pandemic, measures like lockdowns and the closing of social and medical centers block off access to menstrual education and free menstrual resources. The situation is worse for people in refugee camps, prisons and other institutions. A woman in Kirkuk, Iraq, told UNFPA that during the lockdown in 2020, being in a detention center made detainees feel forgotten “but [their] intimate needs matter.”

Solutions to Combat Period Poverty

In response to the problems posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, UNFPA has arranged to distribute dignity kits to families during the pandemic. During times of conflict with ISIS, specifically from 2014 to 2015, the UNFPA handed out about 95,000 such kits. The kit consists of “toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, soap, sanitary pads and underclothes.” While distributing, UNFPA  staff can meet women to assess their needs and tell them about the psychological and reproductive services that the organization offers.

UNHCR collaborated with partners in 2020 and assisted 77,786 girls and women in Iraq by providing sanitary products to them.

UNICEF also helped in arranging clean water and sanitation supplies for women in care homes, correctional facilities and hospitals. Additionally, public video messages and announcements created by UNFPA helped teachers, parents and students gain awareness of menstrual health, even though schools had effectively shut down.

These steps to address period poverty in Iraq are bearing fruit. Data that UNICEF and WHO collected from refugee camps in Iraq in 2020 shows that almost 100% of women felt satisfied with the provision of “menstrual materials and facilities.” Moreover, according to survey data collected in Iraq between 2016 and 2020, 94% of women between the ages of 15-49 years had a private place to wash and change and 97% “had basic hand washing facilities.”

Though solutions are underway, only continued efforts and steadfast commitments to reducing period poverty in Iraq will ensure long-term change and lasting impacts.

– Anushka Raychaudhuri
Photo: Unsplash

Sandstorms in Iraq
Over the past few years, Iraq has been through many sandstorms constantly increasing in intensity and frequency. In April 2022, the country recorded its ninth sandstorm in two months. An extreme weather situation that makes life even harder in a country that has experienced war and poverty. The government has not been taking proper measures for years to prevent his country and the Iraqi people from suffering from such conditions. The most recent sandstorms in Iraq touched six of 18 provinces, including the capital Baghdad. Living under a thick layer of dust has many consequences on people’s health, agriculture as well as the economic situation of the country.

Effects on Health

Health complications are among the most problematic effects of sandstorms in Iraq. While exposed to constant dust in their environment, the Iraqi people see their respiratory health seriously affected. The last sandstorm led to one death and 5,000 people hospitalized following respiratory complications. The high risk of suffering from breathing difficulties led the government to close schools and official institutions. The most affected groups are children and the elderly.

According to the WMO, exposure to dust particles during sandstorms can lead to diseases such as asthma or pneumonia but can also lead to cardiac issues. Moving in the air dust facilitates the transportation and thus the transmission of viruses and other bacteria. Hence, besides the effects the sandstorms have already on Iraq, some health consequences can develop and become problematic with time in a country with financial difficulties.

Effects on the Economy

Sandstorms in Iraq have also a terrible impact on the country’s economy. Among the most affected sectors is the agriculture sector. Previously one of the most prolific sectors of the country, living from agriculture became very difficult for farmers today. In fact, the extreme heat, lack of water and dust brought by repetitive sandstorms have ruined many of the crops strongly affecting the revenues of the farmers who are already struggling to make the ends meet.

This exceptional weather is also affecting merchants. However, for them to survive, they have to open their shops amidst the sandstorm, despite the government suspending working hours for everyone besides the medical field. Some of the merchants saw their sales decreasing given that the thick layer of dust wrapping the city discouraged people to go shopping outside. On another note, three of the Iraqi airports closed for several days due to the lack of visibility the sandstorm caused.

Facing Environmental Challenges

It is worth mentioning that despite the limited means and capacities of the Iraqi state and despite the COVID-19 outbreak and all the difficulties it brought to the health sector, the victims of respiratory diseases always had access to oxygen and proper medication. The government ensured that hospitals have abundant oxygen reserves in most affected regions. Ambulances were also positioned on all the streets to respond to any emergency.

Although being prepared to face medical emergencies is essential during these extreme conditions, thinking of how to prevent Iraq from facing sandstorms again in the future is essential. The ministry of agriculture announced a project supported by the European Union to improve agriculture and create new jobs. More than just opening new jobs, this project is a good start to preventing future sandstorms in Iraq, given that the increase of green areas decreases the frequency and intensity of sandstorms.

Sandstorms in Iraq are becoming a major problem the country must deal with, in addition to all the challenges it must face in terms of the poverty of its population. However, the Iraqi people are resilient and do everything to keep life going despite this extreme weather situation. Even the government is taking small steps to protect its people and their future.

Youssef Yazbek
Photo: Flickr

Economic sanctions aim to inflict economic harm on a targeted country, select industries within it or organizations or specific individuals with the intended goal of changing that entity’s malign behavior. For one to deem a sanction regime effective, it must inflict economic harm and subsequently change the targeted state’s behavior. As a result, sanctions can increase poverty and cause harm to citizens of the countries that suffer them.

Economic sanctions have proven effective at inflicting economic harm, however, many often overlook that sanctions not only harm the targeted state and its people but also impact the state that implements them. Sanctions reduce the revenues of U.S. companies and individuals, costing billions of dollars in forfeited opportunities or sales and thousands of jobs.

However, countries do not often implement sanctions for punishment’s sake, but rather to change the atrocious behavior of other governmental actors. However, the record shows sanctions rarely get their desired outcome and often hurt the most vulnerable parts of a civilian population. For example, sanctions imposed on Haiti led to an expensive and dangerous mass exodus to the U.S. and the military sanctions on Pakistan led their government to pursue a nuclear option because they no longer had access to U.S. weapons. The U.N. imposed sanction regime in the 1990s on Iraq is illustrative of how sanctions rarely attain their goal and primarily harm the civilian population.

UN Sanction Regime in Iraq

The U.N. implemented comprehensive sanctions on Iraq on August 6, 1990, in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait just four days earlier. The sanctions blocked all imports and exports into Iraq seeking to pressure Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait and abandon his pursuit of WMDs. After seven months of comprehensive sanctions, Hussein continued the invasion until January 16, 1991, when the U.S. declared Operation Desert Storm. The U.N. coalition forces drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait in 100 hours.

The economic sanctions evidently inflicted economic harm on Iraq, with the worst effects befalling the most vulnerable parts of the population. In 1993, just three years into the comprehensive sanction regime, the World Food Program (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that the sanctions had made severe hunger and malnutrition commonplace for most of the Iraqi population. As per WFP and FAO reported, those severe hunger and malnourishment impacted were vulnerable groups including children under 5 years old, expectant or nursing women, widows, orphans, the ill, the elderly and the disabled.

It was the military force that compelled Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait, not sanctions. The Iraqi leadership had proven itself able to outmaneuver the impacts of economic sanctions. Hence Iraq’s ability to sustain a ground invasion, under intense sanctions, for seven months after just fighting a war with Iran. The sanctions did not attain their goals as Saddam Hussein remained in power after the negotiated cease-fire, an agreement he largely ignored. By 1997, 31% of Iraqi children under 5-years-old suffered from chronic malnutrition as a result of the sanctions implemented in 1990. This clearly shows how sanctions can increase poverty in the countries that experience them.

Sanctions: A Poverty-National Security Connection

An overreliance on part of the U.S. on using sanctions has eroded U.S. national security and global security in a couple of ways. Anti-democratic regimes, such as Kim Jong-un’s or the former Saddam Hussein regime, frequently scoff at the threat of sanctions because the leadership of these countries is aware they will likely be able to mitigate the effects of sanctions on themselves.

Additionally, sanctions can have the effect of driving civilian populations to be increasingly dependent on their sanctioned government. Sanctions cause scarcity and the sanctioned government is the least vulnerable to resource scarcity. Scarcity enables the sanctioned government to wrest greater control over the distribution of goods, reinforcing the targeted government’s power over its people. In short, comprehensive sanctions can increase poverty and consequently make those that poverty hit the hardest even more dependent on their malign targeted governments.

The U.S. overreliance on sanctions also threatens the superiority of the U.S. dollar. The U.S. derives a great deal of its national security from the dominance of the dollar. The overuse of sanctions leads countries to reevaluate their dependence on the dollar. As Benn Steil noted a director of international economics at the Council on Foreign relations, when one uses this tool too frequently, it becomes increasingly cost-effective for other countries to evaluate alternatives to the U.S. dollar. The unrestrained usage of sanctions increases global poverty and compromises the U.S.’ national security.

Good News: Shifting Stance on Sanctions

There has been a promising shift in the public’s perception of sanctions. In February 2022, the U.N. held a meeting on sanctions, specifically, on how to prevent their unintended consequences. Martin Griffiths, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief delivered a few salient suggestions for sanctions going forward. To ensure that sanctions do not punish civilians for the crimes of their governments, Griffiths suggested to the U.N. Security Council that before countries implement sanctions, they include humanitarian carve-outs in their plan for sanctions. This recommendation would ensure that instead of initiating humanitarian carve-outs after the realization of the obstruction of humanitarian goods, countries can avoid this obstruction by accounting for it before implementing sanctions.

Chester Lankford
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Iraqi Orphans
Iraq’s youth stand as one of the most vulnerable yet valuable populations in Iraq’s war-torn nation. The humanitarian crisis in the conflict-ridden country of Iraq has led to a poverty rate of 24.8% as of March 2021. One of the most tragic consequences of the conflict and violence in Iraq is the fact that, in 2012, there were almost “2.5 million Iraqi orphans.” Although these statistics stem from the time of the brutal Saddam Hussein regime, the situation regarding orphans in Iraq remains dire. Currently, Iraqi Children’s Hope indicates that there are 700,000 Iraqi orphans.

Iraqi Orphans

To put the situation in perspective, one must note that in 2020, Iraq’s age 0-14 population stood at 37.02% of the total population in contrast to 7.53% of the population in the age category of 55 and older. Just as a comparison, 18.37% of the U.S. population is in the 0-14 age range, and, in 2014, more than 34% of U.S. citizens were 50 and older. Because Iraq’s youth make up a significant portion of the population, Iraqi children stand as essential human capital amid a dwindling older generation. Yet, millions of Iraqi orphans often have no support system and no shelter, making them susceptible to the lure of trafficking and a life of crime. This fact coupled with the statistic that almost “3.2 million school-aged Iraqi children [are] out of school” means that support to Iraqi children must become a priority.

However, with Iraqi orphans in mind, three nonprofits are working to alleviate the impacts of the last 40 years of conflict.

Iraqi Children’s Hope

Iraqi Children’s Hope works directly with Iraqi orphans, “enabling them to thrive educationally and economically” to ensure a better quality of life and lessen the impacts of poverty and war. The organization “prioritize[s] orphans who cannot afford to attend private schools or pay tutoring fees” through the Children Tutoring for Success program. The program supports “orphan students in grades 1-8 through homework assistance and various other academic needs.” Iraqi Children’s Hope also focuses on food drives for widowed mothers and orphaned children. For example, during Ramadan 2021, an Islamic tradition in which families fast from sunrise to sunset, the Iraq branch distributed more than 700 food packages to orphan families and other families in need.

The Iraqi Orphan Foundation

The United Kingdom-based Iraqi Orphan Foundation emphasizes supporting vulnerable groups through forms of humanitarian aid and advancing the education of Iraqi orphaned youth. The foundation reaches children across several towns and cities in Iraq. Through its Sponsor an Orphan program that prompts individuals to donate a minimum of £20 per month per child, the Iraqi Orphan Foundation has supported more than 6,000 orphans. In 2019, the organization raised more than £560,000 in donations to support Iraqi orphans. The organization also focuses on direct food distribution for children without sponsors. For Ramadan 2021, the organization distributed “more than 400 food parcels to the families of orphans.”

The Iraqi Children Foundation (ICF)

Iraqi Children Foundation (ICF) commits to supporting at-risk Iraqi children “who are vulnerable to abuse, neglect and exploitation by criminals, traffickers and extremists.” Its scope includes orphans. One of its unique programs is the Hope Bus where volunteers transform an old bus into a lively, child-friendly classroom. Each bus provides about 50 orphans and street children “with tutoring, nutrition, [health support], social services and childhood fun.” Each child participates in the Hope Bus program for a year in preparation for a traditional school. More than 500 children have attended the Hope Bus so far. The program has provided more than 36,700 healthy meals to students and all 2020 graduates “now have their legal documents.”

ICF Street Lawyers

The ICF Street Lawyers program provides “legal protection for children” to safeguard them from traffickers, criminals and other forms of exploitation. Street Lawyers also “help children obtain legal documents required to enroll in school and access government benefits.”

Children make up 25% of all human trafficking victims. Orphans, often without protection or security, are the most vulnerable to trafficking. About 168 million children around the world end up as child laborers with 50% coerced into hazardous work that damages physical and mental well-being. Human trafficking is difficult to track as less than 0.5% of cases are reported. From May 2016 to April 2021, ICF provided “legal protection and defense” to 1,469 children.

An example of ICF’s extensive impact is the story of Ahmed. Ahmed and his widowed mother earn an income by selling milk from their cow. One day, instead of selling the milk, he shared the milk with the Hope Bus children. This type of generosity despite poverty is a testament to the impact of ICF’s work.

The impacts of Iraq’s political turmoil affect Iraqi children most severely, especially Iraqi orphans. However, there is hope as nonprofits commit to addressing the void in government efforts by supporting the nation’s children, ensuring a brighter future for the youngest generation.

– Imaan Chaudhry
Photo: Flickr

Refugees in Iraq
Iraq has endured decades of armed conflict. Since 2014, around 3 billion families have experienced displacement. According to the United States of America for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (U.S.A for UNHCR), more than “6.5 million Iraqis…including 3 million women and girls, require humanitarian assistance and protection.” Maintaining a sense of normalcy is difficult, significantly, if war and political strife exacerbate this struggle for normalcy. Many refugees in Iraq are without power and often cannot afford to keep it on. Simple chores, like doing laundry, become arduous tasks that could take all day to complete. Thankfully, one man’s trip to India proved successful in alleviating the onerous obstacle of handwashing clothes.

Sawhney’s Development of Machines

Navjot Sawhney, whose parents fled from unpartitioned India, always had an interest in humanitarianism and helping those in need. He was first inspired to create the manually operated washing machines after watching his next-door neighbor struggle with her laundry in India. The woman’s name was Divya and, upon returning from his trip, Sawhney developed the plans to create something that would make someone like Divya endure less physical strain when doing laundry.

While only volunteering at the time, Sawhney relied on his former career in engineering to develop the hand-cranked washing machine named after his neighbor. The devices, named after Divya, undergo construction in the U.K. and weigh about 5.5 kg per unit. They also wash, clean and dry clothing. Sawhney eventually developed the Washing Machine Project in 2018 and has received orders from around 15 other countries. Among the countries receiving the Divya, Sawhney has been vigilant in providing a sufficient amount for the families of refugees in Iraq.

Impact of Washing Machines

The Divya’s functionality and convenience make laundry less of an all-day task for displaced families, especially women. According to Sawhney, the long-term goal of this invention was to give women of displaced families their time back, potentially granting them a greater opportunity for an education. In 2019, Sawhney and other Divya engineers traveled to Kurdish, Iraq, to donate the machines. The displaced families, particularly the women, reacted positively to the devices. Sawhney gushed, “We have developed partnerships with large international NGOs and a funding pipeline.”

Plans for Invention

Even though Sawhney’s sojourn inspired the Divya in India, it essentially has not rolled out in the country yet. Sawhney intends to distribute the Divya to other displaced families in India, Lebanon and Uganda, among other countries. With the machine relying solely on 10 liters of water, its small size and minimal requisites make it easy to transport to other countries. Its success in Iraq proves that this machine will make the lives of those abroad even more accessible.

The Divya is still a relatively recent technological and environmental innovation, but a quiet strength lies in its smallness. This little gadget turns something time-consuming into something trivial, showing the effects of small acts of kindness and concern for others and the significant impact on populations.

– Maia Nuñez
Photo: Flickr

In July 2021, the United States government returned more than 17,000 artifacts of cultural significance to the Iraqi people. The move is symbolic of improving diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Iraq. Moreover, it brings a major benefit to those living within Iraq. The move is aiding an emerging tourism industry and is providing jobs for Iraqi citizens. In this way, the return of plundered artifacts and the growth of a national and cultural identity works to alleviate poverty. This is most welcome because Iraqi citizens in poverty endure poor living conditions, environmental disasters such as drought and significant instability from war and conflict between extremist groups.

Conflict, Displacement and Unemployment

The instability from war decimates ways of life and economic standings. In 2019, more than 2 million Iraqi people remained displaced within the country’s borders. In addition, the unemployment rate in 2020 was 13.74% significantly higher than a low of 7.97% in 2012. Without formal settlement and repeated conflict in the country, formal employment and the alleviation of poverty is difficult.

The extremist groups within Iraq’s borders and the physical destruction of culturally significant sites largely affect the country’s culture. Specifically, the Islamic State (ISIS) was responsible for destroying and looting historical sites that are thousands of years old. These losses were about more than just physical locations.

How ISIS Uses Artifacts as Pawns and Funds Vehicles

Historical and cultural sites are a major draw for those to whose culture they belong. They also attract those seeking to learn more about the culture. Iraq is home to six official UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 13 tentative heritage sites. The existence of ancient sites in Iraq attracts visitors from across the globe. Even when conflict led to fluctuations in tourist numbers, the industry still attracted 892,000 visitors in 2019. That is how cultural tourism has proven to be a beneficial tool to alleviating poverty in the region. However, the wide draw and attention to heritage sites also attract a more lucrative and sinister clientele.

Extremist groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS use heritage sites as leverage. Under conflict, groups may plunder and steal from countless artifacts. In other words, conflict scenarios often involve the use of ancient artifacts as pawns. Terror groups, aside from destroying ancient sites, sell antiquities to fund their operations. This in turn affects poverty alleviation efforts because it reduces the ability to benefit from tourism. In the wake of the return of stolen artifacts, Iraq is seeking to grow the tourist section of its economy.

The Plundered Artifacts

The return of plundered artifacts to Iraq included thousands of Mesopotamian seals and tablets. It included pieces from Hobby Lobby that the United States Department of Justice fined $3 million for its poor policy regarding antiquity acquisition. It also included 5,000 artifacts that Cornell University had received in 2000 from a private collector. The Cornell artifacts featured pieces from Garsana, a Sumerian city that was previously unknown.

National Image: From War-Torn to Culturally Tied

Artifacts serve as a reminder of the seeds of culture. In Iraq, a sense of national identity is necessary to rebuild the nation. Having artifacts to point to where the nation has originated serves the purpose to grow a national sense of connectedness to the past. The artifacts returned in 2021 serve as a testament to the history of the Iraqi people and may empower citizens to work towards a stronger future.

As Iraqi Minister of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities Hassan Nadhem said, the return of plundered artifacts, “restores not just the tablets, but the confidence of the Iraqi people by enhancing and supporting the Iraqi identity in these difficult times.”

– Harrison Vogt
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Child Soldiers in Iraq
The use of child soldiers in Iraq is pervasive, with the practice going as far back as 1975, manifested in Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party initiative that strove to create a paramilitary organization for children as young as 14 years of age. Thousands of child soldiers volunteered by 1988, many of them wishing to fight against Iran between 1983 and 1985. Drafting became relatively unpopular due to labor shortages, a ramification of child deaths. As ISIS paraded through countries like Iraq and Syria in the coming years, it also learned of the idea of recruiting children to become soldiers.

The Nearer Past

The 1969 Military Service Act, coupled with resolutions that the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) engendered, determined that the pickings for conscription during times of war were up to the RCC’s discretion. According to Human Rights Watch, conscripting children younger than the age of 15 is a war crime and the age that constitutes a violation under international law is 18. Human Rights Watch has censured the People’s Defense Forces (HPG), operating as the armed wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, also known as PKK, and the Shingal Resistance Units (YBS), also with ties to PKK, following an investigation uncovering 29 documented cases of child conscription.

“The PKK should categorically denounce the recruitment and use of child soldiers and commanders in affiliated armed groups should know that the recruitment and use of children younger than 15 constitute war crimes,” says Zama Coursen-Neff, children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch.

The Influence of Poverty

COVID-19 briefly exacerbated poverty in Iraq, with children and adolescents in Iraq bearing much of the burden. An additional 4.5 million Iraqis who moved below the poverty line increased the percentage of impoverished people in Iraq by 11.7% from the 20% mark in 2018. However, the 20% statistic has since fallen to 24.8% due to the governmental decision to attenuate health regulations, somewhat stimulating the economy.

Eliminating child soldiers in Iraq and beyond requires, among other things, a focus on ending poverty. NGOs like the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the Iraq Child Rights Network are taking a crucial step in the fight by succoring Iraqi and Syrian refugees and empowering them to rebuild their lives. These NGOs also champion healthy childhood development by working in tandem with official bodies like UNICEF to enable laws that bode well for children in Iraq respectively.

Many factors, including poverty, abduction, threat, manipulation, survival and protection, compel children to prematurely engage or aid armed combatants, although poverty and manipulation tend to be especially pervasive. A suffusing of refugee camps, an answer to conflict, especially explosive ones, presents an abundance of children who are devoid of proper guidance through loss of family or legal guardianship, leaving them at mercy of manipulative and despotic fighters to fill the void. Whatever the reasons, child involvement in armed conflict is a solemn breach of child rights and international humanitarian law.

A Ramification of the Past

The power vacuum that resulted from the deposition of Saddam Hussein left many combatants struggling for power in the region, eventually giving birth to ISIS, a Sunni-insurgency from Iraq, which caused devastation that the world came to know. As ISIS annexed parts of Iraq and Syria and declared a caliphate in 2014, the group began to envision a lasting caliphate that could not and would not last, except with an incoming generation of properly indoctrinated subjects. The recent conquests of ISIS, which displaced approximately 700,000 students from proper education, left the terrorist group with a sea of students susceptible to recruitment.

The Child Soldier’s Prevention Act of 2008

Remedying the issue of child soldiers in Iraq and elsewhere is perplexing. Military action risks both a moral dilemma and the potential for intra-conflict for any given military that may otherwise intervene. One can attribute some progress in the battle against the conscription of child soldiers in Iraq to the enactment of the Child Soldier’s Prevention Act of 2008, which has employed the method of engagement of publicly identifying countries involved with child soldiers and restricting security assistance to such countries under the condition that the call to cease child involvement in war goes unheeded.

Prohibition of licenses for direct commercial sales of military paraphernalia, foreign military financing, international military schooling, peacekeeping operations and superfluous military equipment have undergone implementation in order to target countries, albeit said countries may receive a full or partial waiver under the condition that the response to active restrictions brings forth a favorable response. Although Iraq remains a designated country under CSPA ruling, it received a full waiver of restrictions from the Trump administration in 2020, indicating that the country took steps to demobilize, reintegrate and rehabilitate child soldiers.

Geneva Call

Although states largely experience penalties for child conscription, non-state organizations are the usual perpetrators. The restrictions push these states to fight against the issue at home, though this has not kept non-state actors out of earshot of organizations like Geneva Call, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that began in March 2000. Geneva Call tasks itself with enlightening conflict actors on their responsibility as soldiers and informing an inflicted population of their rights.

The HPG and YBS came under close scrutiny by Geneva Call following a Human Rights Watch report noting their involvement in recruiting child soldiers in Iraq. In November 2016, 31 leaders, commanders and advisers of armed movements from several countries, including Iraq, partook in workshops and discussions regarding child protection in armed conflict. The opportunity aimed to educate groups on international norms while seeking pragmatic means of achieving and maintaining adherence to these guidelines.

Using children for military gain branches out of poverty, itself a progenitor of war. Legislation, advocation, education and its complements are not without merit, but eradicating the use of child soldiers once and for all is only possible if countries commit to reducing abject poverty within their borders.

– Mohamed Makalou
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Iraq
Iraq has suffered from past wars, a security-challenged and corrupt government and the recent withdrawal of the United States troops. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Iraq adds another challenging element to this underdeveloped country. More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s impoverished communities are struggling. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed 4.5 million Iraqis below the poverty line. Job losses and a rise in prices for goods have contributed to the increase in poverty.

The Children

The pandemic has impacted Iraqi children the most. According to a UNICEF Iraq study, one out of five Iraqi children were already impoverished before the crisis. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the number has doubled to two out of five children. The study also revealed that the increase in poverty has affected school enrollment, nutrition and children’s development and coping skills.

UNICEF Iraq has recommended that the country needs more social services programs that protect children and that the Iraq government should take prompt action in making these programs more accessible in rural areas. The Iraq government has the funding to promote these programs and health-related public service announcements as well as awareness campaigns on gender-based violence awareness and prevention. However, the government has not always been consistent.

Employment Challenges

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, Iraqis have faced an increase in employment challenges. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) and Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research in collaboration with the Cash Consortium for Iraq (CCI), COVID-19 has had a catastrophic impact on vulnerable households’ income and employment. Younger workers and people in informal employment make up 3,265 of the households in the study.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Iraq unemployment rate was at 12.76% and rose to 13.74%, after the pandemic. Research also determined that the majority had no health insurance or social security. One-quarter of citizens that had employment prior to the pandemic lockdown experienced permanent lay-offs, with 36% of those in the age group of 18-24 permanently dismissed from their jobs. Further assessment revealed that those employed under verbal agreements had a 40% reduction in income. Only 16% had savings and 85% only had savings to last less than three months.

The International Labor Country Coordinator for Iraq, Maha Kattaa, stated that COVID-19 has limited the availability of resources to vulnerable households and has affected their ability to cope. It has also created barriers to retaining good jobs.

The Government and Solutions

UNICEF Iraq has recommended that the Iraqi government establish long-term policy measures for impoverished communities to alleviate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Iraq. It suggested that the government create accessible support packages and provide cash and in-kind support to those who have lost their jobs. UNICEF Iraq also suggested that the Iraqi government make equal social security benefits available for public and private employees.

Despite the fact that the United States has withdrawn troops from Iraq, it is continuing to provide aid to the country’s impoverished communities. In August 2021, it donated 500,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has prepared labs for large-scale testing of COVID-19 and will continue to do so long-term. USAID has also implemented public health emergency plans, provided more than 19,000 food baskets and distributed cash-based transfers to the most vulnerable Iraqi citizens.

The Iraq government has been open to aid from other countries. The government wants to combat the negative effects of COVID-19 but realizes it needs help from outside sources. On the other hand, the government has not led a consistent vaccine awareness campaign and many Iraqis are skeptical about the COVID-19 vaccines. On April 24, 2021, Iraq had more than one million COVID-19 cases.

Looking Ahead

The Iraqi government has made efforts to protect its citizens from COVID-19. However, the inconsistent messaging, limited resources and rise in COVID-19 cases have made it difficult for impoverished communities to thrive. The resources for new jobs, healthcare, education enrollment and coping skills will need to be steady and must align with the current needs of the country. Continued studies on COVID-19 and the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Iraq as well as aid from other countries could help Iraq significantly.

– Dana Smith
Photo: Flickr