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