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 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.
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.
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