Funding gap leaves Iraq in grip of humanitarian crisis

Regional violence in Syria and Yemen overshadows Iraq’s needs, says aid agency

As worsening humanitarian crises globally compete for a limited pool of funding, Iraq’s needs have been largely overlooked with violence flaring up in Syria and Yemen, according to an international humanitarian agency.

Suad Jarbawi, humanitarian response director for Mercy Corps in Iraq, said an immediate influx of aid was needed to safeguard the welfare of Iraqis, some 8 million of whom rely on humanitarian support.

“The funding crisis is enormous for everybody involved in the humanitarian response. Look at the number of natural disasters and conflicts that have been happening globally that have drained direct assistance for humanitarian response, so within the competing environment of different crises that have all desperate humanitarian needs, Iraq has been actually sidelined vis-à-vis Syria, for example,” said Jarbawi.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation this week said it would deliver funding of $600,000 to Mercy Corps, to help it provide emergency relief to families in Iraq.

Refugee numbers worldwide are at an all-time high, as wars, conflict and persecution force more people than at any other time in recorded history to flee their homes, according to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.

The number of forcibly displaced people reached 59.5 million at the end of 2014, compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million a decade ago, it said in June. This means one in every 122 people globally is either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. Regional conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have contributed significantly to these numbers.

During the past month, intensified fighting has displaced around 132,000 people who had to flee their homes in and around the city of Ramadi in Iraq. Funding from the Gates Foundation will help Mercy Corps support those families with their basic needs. Mercy Corps has been providing humanitarian and development assistance to Iraqis for more than a decade.

The funds “came as a direct response to the recent wave of displacement from Ramadi and Mercy Corps will be using them in our cash based response. This means we will try to do what we call catchment of those recently displaced coming out of Ramadi into governorates such as Baghdad or Saladin or Sulaymaniya,” said Jarbawi.

In Iraq, recently displaced individuals have often fled with limited goods and resources. The $600,000 will serve to provide each household with a single cash injection equivalent to $360 that will address their basic needs for a period of one month, said Jarbawi. The organisation aims to assist 750 households, among them around 400 more vulnerable families that will receive a second and third tranche.

The monthly assistance represents the minimum expenditure for a family, providing “basic life sustaining activities, which would encompass food, water, health, shelter and fuel for cooking,” she explained.

The UN in June appealed for almost half a billion dollars in humanitarian aid to address the deteriorating crisis in Iraq, due to escalating violence with Islamic State militants. The global body warned it would be forced to slash or close down more than half its aid operations in Iraq without emergency support from donors.

The required funding it was asking for would cover expenses for shelter, food and water over six months for millions of displaced Iraqis fleeing the violence.

“We are talking about onset displacement from unpredicted security circumstances such as Ramadi, about continuous needs from previous displacements that have started way before Mosul, and about a secondary and third wave of displacement from people who are not satisfied with their location,” said Jarbawi. “The government in Iraq has also declared that their funding is limited, their budgets are not healthy at the moment, which leaves us with millions of people and dwindling funds.”

During the past years, the Gates Foundation has been more active in the Middle East, establishing partnerships with donors and development institutions in the Gulf Arab region. In June, the foundation and the Islamic Development Bank jointly launched the Lives and Livelihoods Fund, a $2.5bn five-year development fund dedicated to lower income Muslim countries. In April, it approved emergency funding of $800,000 for Yemen through the humanitarian agency International Medical Corps.

“Human suffering and displacement in Iraq have intensified to an alarming level. Iraqi people are running out of safe havens, and as fighting continues so does the need for humanitarian support. This grant will help Mercy Corps to provide cash transfers to vulnerable households to meet urgent needs,” Hassan Al-Damluji, head of middle east relations at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said in a statement.