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Red Cross Iraq: Coping With Violence And Striving To Earn A Living

By Nur Hussein Ghazali

02 April, 2010

The beginning of 2010 was marred by acts of violence that claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians, mainly in Baghdad, the central governorates and Najaf. In Mosul, families fled violence and sought refuge in safer areas. Although recent violence-related displacement has been sporadic, there remain some 2.8 million internally displaced people (IDPs) in Iraq who had to leave their homes over recent years in search of safety.

Many Iraqis, especially those worst affected by the effects of the conflict and the ongoing violence, such as displaced, elderly and disabled people and women heading households, continued to struggle to feed their families. Their inability to buy enough of the essential goods they require remains a major concern.

Agriculture, formerly an important part of the economy, has been declining for the past decade. Individuals who have lost agricultural machinery to damage, age or disrepair often cannot replace it owing to a lack of financial wherewithal. In addition, the water supply has been hard hit by a failure to properly maintain pumping stations and irrigation and distribution canals, by the unreliable electricity supply and by higher fuel costs. The massive increase in the price of seed and fertilizer, and cheap imports from neighbouring countries, also play a role in making farming difficult, if not impossible, in many parts of Iraq. Many farmers try to survive by cultivating smaller patches of land, but as they are forced to use low-quality supplies the result is often poor harvests. Others have migrated to cities in search of other ways of earning a living.

The situation was exacerbated by the 2008 drought the worst in the past 10 years which had an especially severe impact on rain-fed agriculture in central, west-central and some northern parts of the country. In some areas, agricultural production was wiped out. After years of poor rainfalls, pastures were reduced and prices of fodder soared. According to an ICRC survey, breeders were forced to cut down their herds by more than 60 per cent in some parts of the country, which had a drastic effect on their livelihoods. "Before, we used to move to neighbouring districts. Now, everywhere is dry and we lost our crops and animals. How can we go on?," said one local farmer in Ninawa governorate.

For households that have lost their main wage earner, the economic situation is especially hard to endure. Most people who went missing in connection with recent wars or the ongoing violence, and most people behind bars, are adult males usually breadwinners. The women and children they left behind often became isolated and therefore extremely vulnerable, despite the strong cultural solidarity among Iraqis.

The ICRC is helping the Iraqis who are worst off to cope with their hardships, and Iraqi communities to support themselves unaided. It is distributing seed and fertilizer, and fodder for livestock. In addition, it is vaccinating cattle and cleaning and improving irrigation canals. In 2009 alone, some 195,000 people benefited.

In January and February 2010, according to the ICRC's own independent assessment carried out by the organization's staff all over Iraq, more than 20,000 people benefited from its humanitarian assistance:

  • almost 15,500 displaced people (families headed by women) in Baghdad, Diyala, Salah Al-Din and Ninawa governorates were given monthly food parcels and hygiene items;
  • around 5,400 people recently displaced from Mosul to Hamdanya and Tilkaif received emergency food parcels, rice and ready-to-eat meals;
  • over 1,900 farmers in Diyala governorate received 491.5 metric tonnes of urea fertilizer to help them improve their harvest and make their farming sustainable;
  • 43 disabled people in Erbil, Dohuk, Sulaimaniya and Ninewa governorates benefited from micro-economic aid enabling them to start small businesses and regain economic self-sufficiency.

The ICRC also endeavoured to respond to other needs of the Iraqi population in January and February.

Providing clean water and sanitation

Access to clean water remains inadequate in several parts of the country. Only 45 per cent of the population, on average, have clean drinking water and 20 per cent proper sewage disposal. ICRC water engineers continue to repair and upgrade water, electrical and sanitation facilities all over Iraq, especially in areas where violence remains a concern, to enhance access for civilians to clean water and to improve the quality of services provided in communities and health-care facilities.

  • Baghdad governorate: Samadiya water compact unit for about 20,000 people, Al Mahmodiya General Hospital serving some 400,000 people living in the area, Ibn Al Khateeb Infectious Diseases Hospital, Medico Legal Institute, Tabat al Kurd water boosting station for over 3,500 people and Al Mada'in water treatment plant for 470,000 people (including displaced people) plus three hospitals and eight primary health-care centres.
  • Anbar governorate: Heet water treatment plant for 45,000 residents and 250 displaced people, Habbaniya water treatment plant for 30,000 residents and 1,500 displaced people, and Al Qaim Hospital providing health care for around 350,000 area inhabitants.
  • Salah Al Din governorate: al Dor clinic and Dijail compact unit supplying water to almost 25,000 people.

Other water-related works were carried out that will benefit nearly 100,000 people in Missan, Diwaniya and Diyala governorates, and in Ninawa governorate where 3,000 inmates held at Badoosh prison will be among those benefiting.

Water was delivered by truck to:

  • 4,500 displaced people in Sadr City and 340 in Husseinia and Ma'amil, and in Baghdad Teaching Hospital, all in Baghdad governorate;
  • Qalawa Quarter camp in Sulaimaniya, hosting around 360 displaced people. Two damaged tanks of 5,000 litres each have been replaced.

Assisting hospitals and physical rehabilitation centres

Health-care services are still inadequate. In some areas, it is difficult to reach health facilities because of the prevailing lack of security. Iraqi health facilities still benefit from ICRC support. Limb-fitting and physical rehabilitation services are provided by the ICRC to help disabled people reintegrate into the community. In January and February:

  • 12 hospitals and three primary health-care centres received medical supplies and equipment;
  • 34 doctors and nurses successfully took part in a training course on strengthening emergency services given in Sulaimaniya Emergency Hospital and in Al Sadr Teaching Hospital in Najaf;
  • 26 managers working in the field of primary health care in Ninawa, Kirkuk, Erbil and Diyala governorates participated in a forum, held in Erbil, on improving the quality of health care services in rural primary health-care centres;
  • two physiotherapists from Najaf, two from Hilla, one from Sulaimaniya and one from Erbil attended a three-week training course in Erbil, where the ICRC runs a physical rehabilitation centre.

Visiting detainees

Visiting detainees remains a top priority for the ICRC in Iraq. In January and February, ICRC delegates visited detainees held:

  • in Fort Suse Federal Prison, Sulaimaniya governorate; in Nasiriya Prison, Thi-Qar governorate; in Mina and Maaqal prisons, Basra governorate;
  • in Tasfirat Kirkuk, Emergency Police Station and Juvenile Police Centre; in Assayesh KDP Station, Kirkuk governorate;
  • in Brigade 54, 6th Division, Baghdad governorate;
  • in six prisons and two police stations in Erbil, Dohuk and Sulaimaniya governorates;
  • in Camp Taji (US custody), Baghdad governorate. This was the last visit to the detention facility prior to its handover to Iraqi authorities.

Around 5,200 detainees held in Fort Suse, Chamchamal, Khademiya, Adhala and Amarah prisons received blankets, mattresses and clothes to help them cope with the cold winter season. In Chamchamal Federal Prison, 34 disabled detainees were given crutches as part of a follow-up carried out by ICRC health delegates of health care in the prison.

More than 7,800 Red Cross messages were exchanged between detainees and their families in January and February. In addition, 626 detention certificates were issued to former detainees or internees to make them eligible for social welfare benefits.

Clarifying what happened to missing people

The ICRC supports the authorities in their efforts to clarify what happened to those who went missing in connection with the Iran-Iraq War and the 1990-1991 Gulf War. It also helps train forensic professionals in the identification and management of mortal remains and regularly supplies equipment. In January and February:

  • the mortal remains of nine Iranian soldiers were repatriated from Iraq under ICRC auspices;
  • the Technical Sub-Committee of the Tripartite Commission, handling cases of persons missing in connection with the 1990-1991 Gulf War, held its 63rd session in Kuwait, which was chaired by the ICRC and attended by representatives from Iraq, Kuwait and the 1990-1991 Coalition (the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Saudi Arabia);
  • two days of training by an ICRC forensic specialist were provided for staff of Al Zubair centre to help them better manage the files of thousands of missing persons.

Promoting international humanitarian law

Reminding parties to a conflict of their obligation to protect civilians is a fundamental part of the ICRC's work. The organization also endeavours to promote international humanitarian law within the civil society. In this framework, a series of presentations were organized for various audiences, which included military personnel, prison staff, students and professors




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