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Meet Sarah: Untangling Humanitarian Conflicts

Sarah at the Berlin Wall while studying EU politics in Germany.
Sarah at the Berlin Wall while studying EU politics in Germany.

My name is Sarah Chaney (soon to be Reichenbach) and I am the new Communications Intern here at EPIC. I am looking forward to exploring the intricacies of the humanitarian crises in Iraq and helping EPIC spread awareness of Iraqi issues, make foreign policy changes and promote peace in Iraq through creative advocacy and on-the-ground projects.

I am a new resident of the D.C. area and will be starting my M.A. in International Affairs with a concentration in Conflict and Conflict Resolution at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. I recently completed my B.A. in International Affairs with an emphasis in Africa and the Middle East at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, CO.

During my time in Colorado, I interned for both of the state’s U.S. Senators doing constituent advocacy work. I also worked with non-profits registering voters with New Era Colorado and volunteering at the Global Refugee Center. Additionally, I interned at a Denver Open Media, a public access television station. In the summer of summer 2013, I studied the European Union’s business and politics in seven different European cities. Later I wrote my honors thesis on Eurosceptic, far-left and far-right wing parties in Britain, France, and Germany, based on research inspired by the trip. I also did consulting work, student outreach, and radio programming with a local D.C. company, Results International.

Throughout my experiences, both academic and professional, I have always been drawn towards the politics of international conflicts, as well as the on-the-ground, humanitarian implications that are often overlooked by policymakers and the media. I am eager to get to work with EPIC and continue to share with you thought-provoking updates on Iraq and the work we are doing there.

Humanitarian Crisis Overview Series: Health, WASH, and Food Security

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Last week’s blog post on the displacement issue in Iraq’s ongoing humanitarian crisis highlighted an important phenomenon; the violence has come to intensify existing development problems in Iraq. Among the most important of these problems are health, food security, and WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) programs.



  • After 4 decades of healthcare decline in Iraq, the current crisis has diminished the capacity of hospitals in places like Anbar, and overwhelmed others in the Kurdish Region of Iraq.
  • While immediate food security is being well addressed by international organizations, rising food prices and the disrupted harvesting season threaten the ability of host communities to take in displaced Iraqis.
  • The poor state of Water, Sanitation and Health (WASH) programs in Iraq was compounded by the recent violence, leaving Iraqis at high risk of Cholera and water borne diseases.



Iraq’s Health Problems prior to the Crisis:

Throughout the 1970s and into the early 1980s, Iraqi health care was outstanding. With a free health care system in 172 hospitals and 1200 primary health-care clinics, staffed with medical professionals graduating from top universities in the UK and Germany, Iraq was a regional  leader in healthcare. Yet, when Saddam Hussein came to power and the Iran-Iraq war began, resources were diverted away from the medical sector. After nearly a decade of decline in healthcare spending, sanctions following the 1991 Gulf war further undermined Iraq’s healthcare system.  A mass exodus of health care professionals occurred as Doctor’s salaries dropped to only $30 a month. Iraqi hospitals fell behind on health care knowledge as hospitals had no access to foreign journals, textbooks or internet. Lastly, the sanctions placed an embargo on many essential medicines, particularly those used for combating simple bacterial and fungal infections. For more see “Healthcare under Sanctions in Iraq: An Elective Experience” The US invasion in 2003 further hampered Iraq’s health system. Damage and looting following the invasion caused a large loss of equipment and pharmaceutical stocks. While nearly $53 billion in assistance schemes were implemented, many doctors had fled the country and challenges remained. 78 percent of Iraq’s health professionals in Baghdad alone fled by 2007. In the years leading to the crisis, healthcare was in poor conditions. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported in 2011, that Iraq had 7.8 doctors per 10,000 people, a rate at least two times lower than the surrounding neighbors. In areas of security concerns, this number is lower. IRIN reported that nearly all families (96.4 percent) have no health insurance and 40 percent of the population deems the quality of healthcare services to be very bad. By the start of the current crisis, Iraq’s hospitals and clinics were already understaffed and in poor conditions. The crisis has merely exacerbated Iraq’s healthcare deficiencies. sites files resources Map confirmed measles cases in Iraq as of 6July2014.pdf

Health in Crisis:

Iraq’s already deficient healthcare system is overwhelmed by the crisis. Some hospitals and clinics have closed in areas of fighting.  In other areas health services struggle to operate at full capacity.The fighting has damaged hospitals,  disrupted key supply chains, reduced access to fuel and electricity, and caused an exodus of medical personnel. Hospitals in Mosul, Tikrit, and Fallujah have been damaged by fighting. The Fallujah hospital was targeted multiple times by the Iraqi government from May through July. On July 20th, the hospital in the town of Shirqat, between Mosul and Tikrit, was bombed. Attacks on these hospitals, and others have severely diminished access to medical services for those most in need. Other hospitals, although unscathed, are running at low capacities. The ongoing insecurity has caused supply and personnel shortages in hospitals across central Iraq. The dwindling medical staff in Iraq before the crisis are beginning to leave for security reasons. Most recently, the General Hospital and Primary Health Care Center in Sinjar reported that all health staff fled due to the conflict, leaving Sinjar without medical personnel. Cold chains, required to keep key medicines cold, are disrupted due to a lack of electricity, fuel supplies and insecure transportation. This means that some medicines delivered areas of conflict, may not remain effective for a long time if refrigerators stop working due to a lack of electricity. Hospitals in more secure areas, like the Kurdistan region, are now overwhelmed. Large influxes of IDPs recenlty overwhelmed health services in Dahuk Governorate, particularly in Khaneke, Sharya and Ba’adra where the number of consultations tripled. The Health budget of the region is now overstretched, which leaves hospitals in the Kurdistan region not only understaffed but underfunded as well. International organizations have helped relieve some of the pressure by providing mobile health clinics and key supplies and personnel to overwhelmed hospitals. Delivery and needs assessments will continue to be difficult processes as the conflict continues. (For more see the most recent WHO update on health) However, the sustainability of such a health approach is in question. With thousands of Iraqi medical professionals fleeing the country, Iraq’s healthcare system may be left severely diminished for years to come. Communicable Diseases: The displacement of millions of Iraqis and their poor living conditions has raised concerns of the spread of diseases like Measles and Polio. Since January 2014, over 860 Measles cases have been documented in Iraq. Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease which causes fever, runny nose, cough and a rash all over the body. Children under 5 and adults over 20 are at risk of complications like pneumonia if left unvaccinated. Measles isn’t new to Iraq, in 2008/2009, a large outbreak of measles spread throughout the country, largely due to the absence of a large scale vaccination program. Like Measles,  Polio returned to Iraq with two cases back in April of 2014, after a 14 years absence due to a lack of widespread vaccination. With such mass movements and the very contagious nature of Polio, a significant risk exists for a potential outbreak. To respond, UNICEF, WHO, and others have conducted multiple vaccination campaigns, with its most recent campaign vaccinating 4 million children throughout 13 Governorates. With the addition of 4 million the total for children vaccinated against polio since march stands at around 22.5 million. Yet, access and IDP movement constrained these efforts, leaving many children unvaccinated.

Six months after polio outbreak, fight to contain disease continues - YouTube

Non-Communicable Diseases:  Disrupted supply chains for medicine limit access of Iraqis to key medicines for conditions like asthma, diabetes, hypertension, and others. The medicine that does exist is limited and often too costly for displaced families deciding to spend their money on food and shelter rather than key medicine. For Iraqis with Asthma, particularly children, life in displacement camps and makeshift shelters is hellish. Daily sandstorms, hot weather, and open sewage can induce and exacerbate Asthma attacks. WHO and other organizations have distributed necessary drugs, but its unclear whether all needs have been met. The access and affordability of drugs to treat chronic illnesses is an ongoing challenge in Iraq. Maternal Health: UNFPA expects that, with overstretched health facilities, the number of unassisted childbirths may rise. After assessing the Erbil Maternity Hospital, UNFPA noted that the caseload had doubled with up to 20 Caesarean (C-section) cases every day and an average time from birth to hospital discharge of 3 hours! UNFPA warns that about 250,000 women and girls, including nearly 60,000 pregnant women, are in need of urgent care. With 10 million dollars, allocated from the $ 500 million donation from Saudi Arabia, the UNFPA has mobilized support in affected areas by distributing thousands of “dignity kits”, provision of basic equipment and supplies for reproductive health care and normal childbirth, and assistance to 85 hospitals and maternity centers as well as 207 primary health centers. Mental Health: Back in July, EPIC highlighted the mental health issue in Iraq, noting its high prevalence amongst Iraqis and Iraq’s lack of capacity to sufficiently deal with the issue. The ongoing crisis and its horrific sights are likely to add to the 18.6% of the population already suffering from mental illness. Sadly, only three mental health clinics exist in Iraq to treat those in need, with one location in Sulaymaniyah and one in Baghdad. Several UN agencies and NGOs have provided psychosocial support for those affected by the conflict, particularly women and children. Yet, in spite of the efforts of these organizations, the mental health crisis will only stabilize when violence subsides. When it does, treating millions afflicted with mental illness and psychological scarring will be a tremendous undertaking, requiring psychologists that Iraq may not have.

Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH):

Water Supply:

Peshmerga forces recently recaptured the Mosul Dam from ISIS
Peshmerga forces recently recaptured the Mosul Dam from ISIS

Even before the crisis water resources and infrastructure were a serious concern to the people of Iraq. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers, accounting for 98% of the country’s surface water , are quickly dwindling.  The amount of water per capita fell from 5,900 cubic meters in 1977 to 2,400 cubic meters in 2009. This decline is likely to continue with some suggesting that the two rivers would not reach the sea by 2040. ISIS control of the Mosul Dam was a concerning development in the conflict. With the help of US airstrikes, the Kurdish Peshmerga were able to recapture the dam, averting a serious water supply crisis. If the group had kept control of the dam, experts believe they would have done one of two things. The first option, and perhaps the most catastrophic, would be to breach the dam, causing a 35 foot wave to wash away Mosul and reach Baghdad with 15 foot floods. The option, unthinkable, wouldn’t be unlikely. The Dam’s structural deficiencies would have made the job very easy. The group also already used such a tactic in the Anbar province, when ISIS flooded Fallujah Dam earlier in the year. The group’s second course of action would have been to cut off areas downstream of the dam, particularly the predominantly Shia southern governorates. The group has strategically cut off water from areas downstream on many occasions, including interrupted water provision in Telkaif and Hamdaniyah. If used again,  the tactic would further threaten food security and leave many Iraqis without key water resources. State of WASH Infrastructure

Water Infrastructure remained in poor condition leading up to the crisis. Picture courtesy of UNICEF World Water Day video
Water Infrastructure remained in poor condition leading up to the crisis. Picture courtesy of UNICEF World Water Day video

In addition to this decline in resources, WASH infrastructure is poorly funded and maintained.  Water infrastructure in Iraq struggled to recover from the economic stagnation under UN sanctions and damage caused by decades filled with conflicts. While overall WASH programming has improved within the last three decades, surveys depict a country struggling to provide adequate drinking water and sanitation. UNICEF’s Multiple indicator Cluster Survey 2011, indicated that in 27% of households tested there were no traces of chlorine in the water. The crisis has limited access to clean water and sanitation. Severe shortages of chlorine are occurring in areas of conflict, particularly the Ninewa and Anbar governorates. In other areas, mass movements have overwhelmed existing water infrastructure, particularly sanitation facilities. Given the pre-existing low quality of WASH infrastructure, direct damage or increased use have exacerbated ongoing  problems in Iraq. Health implications: The 2007 Cholera outbreak, was evidence of severe shortcomings in Iraq’s WASH infrastructure. Cholera is a an acute intestinal infection caused by the consumption of contaminated water or food. The intestinal infection induces watery diarrhea and often vomiting, which can quickly lead to dehydration. With simple use of Chlorine and other water treatment measures Cholera can be avoided. Yet, in 2007 some areas didn’t have chlorine, leading to the outbreak in which at least 24 people died and more than 4,000 cases were diagnosed. The spread of Cholera in 2007 was not an isolated incident. It’s a common news story in Iraq, as the water infrastructure continues to leave millions without clean drinking water. 2008 and 2012 saw similar Cholera outbreaks, as poor water infrastructure persisted. The current conflict has elevated the risk of a similar cholera outbreak. Water infrastructure remains damaged, and access to clean water is limited. Given the hot weather and living conditions of many IDPs, consumption of dirty water is on the rise. Iraqis are at risk of other water borne diseases as well. Gastroenteritis, brucellosis, hepatitis and Typhoid fever are among the other concerning water borne diseases resulting from poor infrastructure.

Food Security:

The current crisis has hampered food production, disrupted distribution, and depleted food supplies within Iraq. While no immediate food shortages are occurring, the long term status of food security is concerning.  Fadel El-Zubi, the U.N Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) representative for Iraq recently said, “Now is the worst time for food insecurity since the sanctions and things are getting worse.” UN sanctions against Iraq increased food deprivation to 15 percent by 1996. In the late 90s, the number rose to nearly one-third of the population. The Oil-for Food programme in 1995, helped relieve the strain of the sanctions, yet it was the Public distribution system that helped provide greater food access to the Iraqi population. Over the past decade, Iraq appears to have made some progress, however food deprivation differed by region and Iraq was still heavily dependent on food imports. (For more see IRIN’s article on food security 10 years after the US invasion) Experts predicted that 2014 would yield favorable crop production in Iraq. Increased rain fall placed wheat harvest predictions at 16% above their five year average. Yet, the conflict uprooted many farmers just as the season’s harvest began. With the Nineveh and Salahaddin governorates contributing to nearly a third of Iraq’s wheat production and 38% of its barley, the recent crisis has disrupted Iraq’s productive capabilities. A recent report indicates that ISIS has seized around 40 percent of Iraq’s wheat and are looting government grain silos. Iraq’s Trade ministry said that 1.1. million tons of wheat is currently being held in silos of ISIS controlled territories, 20 percent of Iraqi people’s annual intake. ISIS currently sells the grain on the black market, and rarely compensate farmers who harvest the grain. For those who can access food, the challenge will be whether they can afford it. Costs of staple commodities are likely to rise given the disruption in production, higher fuel costs, and deterioration of reserves in Nineveh and Salahaddin. With rising food prices and an influx of displaced persons, host communities are increasingly strained, raising tensions among Iraq IDPs and host communities. In addition to the higher prices, the distribution of food is much more difficult. The public distribution system on which many Iraqis rely, is now disrupted. The system supplies subsidized flour and other goods. While many have criticized the system for being corrupt and wasteful, poor Iraqis are dependent upon it. With the recent turmoil, the system no longer functions in areas of conflict. sites default files FSC Presence Map 2014-07-28.pdf


The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Food Program (WFP), and its Food Security Cluster have taken leading roles in the response. The World Food Programme and its partners have  establihsed field kitchens in Dohuk, helping to feed over 100,000 people per day. For the time being, these groups have been able to address food insecurity in accessible areas. Unfortunately many Iraqis are not receiving food. Inaccessibility to conflict areas and the transient nature of IDPs, have made food distribution difficult. If the humanitarian situation continues, food security will become a big concern as production in Iraq is hampered.


The international response to the crisis has been substantial. Saudi Arabia’s $500 million donation to the UN, US and UK aid drops, and organizations on the ground have gone a long way in addressing the crisis. Yet more work needs to be done. The immensity of the humanitarian crisis and an inability to access certain areas, has left many without important humanitarian support. The UN Strategic Response plan, launched in March, is being rewritten for a third time, reflecting the growing needs of Iraqis in crisis.(You can help by donating to the SRP) While the current conflict will pass, important work will remain to resolve Iraq’s underlying development and humanitarian issues. The United States and International community must make a long term commitment to the people of Iraq and the development of their country. To stay up to date on the humanitarian developments of the Iraq Crisis check out these wonderful resources:

This weeks Links: August 10-15

Picturing Change Through Photography

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The Power of a Photograph

With the constant availability of camera-phones at our fingertips and the endless stream of casual snapshots that fill our social media timelines, we begin to take for granted the power that a single photograph can have. The clichéd phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” seems to underestimate the value of photography and it’s incredible effect on society. EPIC strives to capture much more than just a thousand words through our PhotoVoice: Iraq project, in which we aim to promote peace, empower youth, and spark social change through photojournalism and the art of photography. PhotoVoice: Iraq is a participatory research project that encourages young Iraqis to actively research issues in their community and consider solutions for these issues through photojournalism and written narratives.To learn more about the PhotoVoice: Iraq methodology, its mission, and our partners, check out the project’s page here.

photovoice blog 3
All rights reserved to Tania Jalil of AUIS

Empowering Youth

In recent months, Iraq’s crisis has escalated, worsening many pre-existing social issues affecting Iraqi communities and taking a large toll on youth and their daily lives. With 47% of the Iraqi population under the age of 18, it is of growing importance that EPIC works to create a more prosperous and stabilized society for this generation. Students have experienced disruptions in their education and a lack of academic support within their communities, contributing to unfavorably high dropout rates. Over 1.4 million Iraqis have been displaced this year, making it extremely difficult, and even impossible, for students to continue with their education. For these reasons, EPIC turned to American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) to host our first successful PhotoVoice: Iraq session, where we had the opportunity of empowering 15 university students to ignite social change.

old age home
All rights reserved to Sima Soren of AUIS

Goals for Social Change

Students began with big aspirations; they spoke of seeing the “violence and misbehaviours against women disappear”, “the civil wars to reach an end”, and the “corruption diminished.” Even with this notable passion for social change, the participants were incredibly reluctant to interact with community members in order to gather research. Erik Gustafson, EPIC executive director and PhotoVoice mentor, recalls sending PhotoVoice instructor, Sasa Kralj,  to accompany a student to the local Elderly Home in efforts of encouraging interaction between the student and his community. After a bit of encouragement and a few weeks time, students became more comfortable with their community members, approaching strangers on the street to take powerful portraits and document each subject’s brilliant story of hardship and hopes for the future.

photovoice 2
All rights reserved to Tania Jalil of AUIS

Reaching Out to the Community

With the worsening humanitarian crisis that displaced more than 1.4 million citizens and killed more than 8,000 civilians this year due to escalating violence, there is no better time for young Iraqis to voice their opinions and push their communities towards a safer civil society. Photovoice allows students to explore issues of importance through weekly photography assignments and mentoring sessions that provoke thought and encourage further research. Through the collection of this participatory research project, students interact with community members, allowing them to share PhotoVoice’s mission and their own personal goals for social change. The gallery displays at AUIS and Washington D.C. will provoke conversation amongst members of the community and public officials that have the power to make an impact. Traditional and social media groups will attend, as well as local policy makers, creating a multiplier effect that will deliver our students’ stories to a wide range of audience outside of their surrounding communities. The participant’s voices can be heard through each of their personal narratives, expressing their concern for issues that need addressing, and possible solutions for social change.

edited girls
All rights reserved to Halbast Abdulah of AUIS

Continuing PhotoVoice

After such a successful session of PhotoVoice: Iraq, EPIC is preparing for another round in the Spring of 2015, with a new set of participants. EPIC hopes that with enough funding and support, PhotoVoice can eventually expand to other areas in Iraq, including Baghdad and Mosul, teaching young Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) as well as Iraqi students. Keep a lookout for the 2014 participant galleries that will be posted on our blog in the near future.

PhotoVoice Class 2014 edit
The PhotoVoice class of 2014.

Want to help support PhotoVoice: Iraq? Make your donations here!




Humanitarian Crisis Overview Series: Displacement

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The current displacement crisis in Iraq did not erupt suddenly. It is the newest wave of a continual problem in Iraq. A 2009 report from the Brookings Institute noted:

“In fact, since the late 1960s, Iraq has produced the largest number of refugees and internally displaced persons in the Middle East with the exception of Afghanistan.”

The first “layers” of the displacement crisis date back to the 1975 Kurdish revolt,  Saddam Hussein’s relocation policies and atrocities against Kurds, and the Iran-Iraq War and the first Gulf war in 1991, provided the first “layers” of the current crisis. Before 2003, it was estimated that around a million Iraqis were displaced in the country, two thirds in the north of Iraq and one third in the south. (Brookings, 10) From 2003-2005 an estimated 190,000 more people were displaced. By 2006, it was estimated 1.2 million people were displaced in Iraq. The February 2006 mosque bombing in Samarra began a two year civil war which resulted in 1.66 million people to flee within Iraq and an estimated 2.2 million refugees escaping to Jordan and Syria. By the Anbar crisis, nearly 1.1 million IDPs already existed within Iraq, with “… many of them [living] in slum-like settlements, with no clear government policy to address their future.”(IRIN)

5-6 years after the displacement crisis of 2006-2008, Iraq and the International community had failed to find a solution to the nation’s 40 year problem. The addition of nearly 1.4 million displaced persons since the start of 2014, has exacerbated an ongoing issue in Iraq. Although the United Nations Strategic Response Plan (SRP) is now overfunded, finding a solution to the displacement crisis will need more resources and a sustained commitment.

Iraq  Mosul Transit - YouTube


  • The new displacement in Iraq builds upon ongoing displacement problems in Iraq resulting from conflicts throughout the past decades.
  • Although Displacement is widespread and fluid, most of the displaced have settled either in the Anbar province, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, or Baghdad and the southern provinces.
  • Border policies of the KR-I have left a large group of Iraqis, particularly Sunnis, stranded in transit camps like Khazair, which are quickly exceeding capacity.
  • Host families in safer regions have embraced displaced Iraqis, yet, with rising costs of living, their abilities to house displaced persons are strained. The remaining internally displaced Iraqis have been forced to stay in schools, unfinished or empty public buildings, and camps.


Waves of Displacement:

  • 1960-1975: Kurdish Revolt: Fighting between the Iraqi Government and Kurdish militia caused the displacement of around 600,000.
  • 1980-1988: Iran-Iraq War: Retribution for perceived Kurdish support for Iran in the war resulted in the Anfal policy, resulting in the execution of 200,000 Iraqi kurds and the deportation of 500,000 to “collective settlements” and detention camps.
  • 1990-1992: The Gulf War: By December 1991, there were more than 700,000 IDPs in Iraq according to UNHCR. Even 11 years after the displacement, thousands remained displaced.
  • 2003-2006: After the initial US invasion of Iraq, more than a million Iraqis were displaced as sectarian militias battled for control of certain neighborhoods.
  • 2006-2008 Displacement Crisis: In February 2006, the bombing of Al-Askaria mosque and its violent aftermath displaced an estimated 1.66 million people (UNHCR 2006), raising the total numbers of IDPs at the time to 2.7 million.
  • In September 2012, Iraq’s Ministry of Displacement and Migration (MoDM) reported that over 1.3 million IDPs existed in the country. Elizabeth Ferris of the Brookings Institute wonders what happened to the other 1.4 million, worrying that they may have fallen under the radar.
  • 2011- January 2014 Syrian Crisis Refugee Influx: Nearly 225,000 Syrian Civil War Refugees sought refuge in Iraq amidst their own violence.


Current Displacement Wave:

  • January 2014: Fighting in Anbar displaced 85,000
  • February 2014: Continued fighting boosts number to 140,000
  • March 2014: Intense conflict in Fallujah and Ramadi increases the number of IDPs to nearly 415,000 people according to UN agencies. (IRIN)
  • April 2014: Thousands more are displaced from Anbar after Militants from ISIS close a floodgate on the Euphrates river, causing major flooding in the Anbar Province. From January to April more than 500,000 IDPs  were displaced in the Anbar Governorate.
  • May:The situation in Anbar continued to deteriorate, as the Iraqi government began to indiscriminately bomb the area.
  • June 5th- 11th: The ISIS advance across northern Iraq and into Mosul displaced over 500,000 individuals, many of whom moved into the KRI provinces. On June 25th,UNAMI reported that 230,000 Ninewa IDPs entered Dohuk, 100,000 IDPs entered Erbil, and 57, 720 entered Peshmerga controlled territories in Ninewa. sites files resources Irq_IDP_Locations_DTM_7Aug2014.pdf
    IDP and Camp locations as of August 7th Courtesy of UNOCHA Orange dots: IDP displaced January to June Red Dots: IDP displaced July to August 7th.
  • July 2-18: The bulk of population movement occurred from Northern Iraq and the Kurdistan region towards southern governorates, as thousands of IDPs headed towards Najaf, Karbala, and other the surrounding area. Continued fighting in central Iraq continued to displace more people from Ninewa and Anbar.
  • July 19-26: After receiving an edict from ISIS, an estimated 400 christian families left Mosul, many of which made their way into the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. In addition to more Mosul displacement, UN OCHA reported that the number of IDPs in Sinjar dropped by 75% going from 10,000 families to 2,500 families.
  • July 27-August 1: In this week displacement trends continued as the number of IDPs, predominantly Shia, began to arrive in the Southern governorates. More displacement occurred as an estimated 3,070 families from Ninewa and 116 families from Anbar fled violence.
  • August 3rd: Initial reports from last week’s conflict in the Sinjar province, indicate that between 35-50,000 people were displaced in nine locations, with many surrounded by ISIS armed groups. Over sites files resources Iraq Displacement Humanitarian Snapshot.pdf
    Displacement in Northern Iraq August 2nd-August 8th. Courtesy of UNOCHA

    30,000 people, mostly women and children, made their way to the Dahuk Governorate, with more arrivals expected.  This marked the second displacement for thousands of IDPs who fled to Sinjar from Tal Afar. See UNOCHA’s map.

  • August 7th: ISIS moved into Qaraqosh, Iraq’s largest Christian town, and surrounding areas (Tal Kayf, Bartella and Karamlesh) displacing tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians. Thousands of those IDPs entered the Erbil Governorate, settling in Ainkawa, a Christian neighborhood in Erbil City.
  • August 8th: UNAMI reports that by August 8th two of the largest transit camps along the Kurdistan Region’s border, Khazair and Garmawa, were nearly empty. This came after Khazair exceeded its capacity of 5,000 in the camp.

Displacement Flows:

Displacement Snapshot from July 24th. Courtesy of UN OCHA
Displacement Snapshot from August 1st. Courtesy of UNOCHA

While most of IDPs can be found in the Kurdistan region, Anbar and southern Governorates, the displacement is widespread and fluid throughout the country. UNOCHA reports that there are 1,231 known IDP locations across Iraq.

Many of the IDPs experience multiple displacements or continue to move around for a number of reasons. First, the dynamic conflict environment, which expanded from its initial areas of Anbar and Ninewa, has pushed into areas in which Iraqis sought refuge. Fighting in Sinjar uprooted many Yazidis and other minorities that had already been displaced from Tal Afar. Similar fighting later in the week emptied two of the largest transit camps across the Kurdistan region’s border (Khazair and Garmawa).

Secondly, some cannot afford  to live in other areas. The cost of living in places like the Kurdistan region, is much higher than central Iraq. UN OCHA noted in a recent update that some IDPs from Anbar are returning due to their inability to manage the high cost of living in Erbil, Dahuk, and Sulaymaniyah.

Displacement into KR-I

Those who were able to flee the conflict in the Nineveh and Salah-Al-Din Governorates, primarily fled northeast to Dahuk, Erbil, and Sulaymaniya, governorates in the Kuridstan Region of Iraq (KR-I). About 500,000 Iraqis flooded into the Kurdistan region in early June, yet in recent weeks the KR-I has tightened access. Checkpoints are now regularly closed, leaving displaced persons waiting for periods up to five days.

The closures are a product of security and financial concerns of the KRG. With spending to the KRG frozen until the 2014 Iraq budget is passed, the KRG has a diminished capacity to take in such population flows. Security concerns are likely the result of ISIS tactics in using Sleeper cell units activated in cities, something seen in Mosul.

As problematic as the closures are, it may be the practice of selective accommodation that’s the more concerning issue. Rights groups are indicating that Kurds and Christians are able to pass checkpoints easily, “whereas Sunni and Shia Arabs and Turkomen are stopped or sent to temporary holding sites.” While this may be the result of discrimination, the resident sponsor program of the KR-I is contributes largely to this phenomenon. Most families are only allowed to cross into Kurdish territory if they have a resident sponsor. Given that most of the residents in Kurdistan are Christians and Kurds, the practice takes on a discriminatory appearance.

June 25 Displacement Map UNOCHA
June 25 Displacement Map UNOCHA

Unfortunately the practice has serious consequences for those denied access, who have moved to the Garmawa or Khazair displacement camps. The Khazair camp, lying 100km west of Erbil and 53km east of Mosul, currently hosts about 1,500 displaced people . There’s little in the camp aside from UNHCR tents and bathrooms. Paired with heat, sparse access to food, water and electricity have caused many families to move towards Urban areas and away from the Khazair camp. According to the UNHCR, there are plans to relocate transit camps like Khazair inside Erbil, however the transition is likely to take a month.

An open and clearly articulated border policy by the KRG will be necessary for an effective response to the displacement. On the heels of a $500 million donation from Saudi Arabia and international pressure, the KRG will likely be more open to allowing IDPs into the region.

Displacement in Anbar:

The displacement within Anbar (highlighted by Taif Jany back in January)  marked differences with that of the Nineveh province. Of the over 558,648 (June 25th numbers) displaced by the conflict, it appears that approximately 400,000 of them remain in Anbar, the most in any governorate.

While thousands are moving to the KR-I region or southern provinces, the majority are stuck facing hardship under ISIS and the Iraqi government’s use of barrel bombs.

Southern Governorates:

ISIS’ invasion of Mosul and the subsequent conflict has sent predominantly Shia muslims to the southern provinces. The concentration of Shia muslims in the south has occurred in two movements. The first was initial movement of persons from central Iraq or the Anbar province into the southern governorates of Najaf, Babylon, Kerbala and Wassit.

The second movement is occurring from transit camps in the north. According to IRIN, Shia muslims are being taken to a transit site close to Erbil to wait for flights out of Erbil International Airport. IRIN found that many of the Shia muslims were transferred from the Khazair camps to the Baharka camp, just outside of Erbil. These flights are often taken to cities like Baghdad and Najaf.

Currently the number of IDPs in Baghdad and the surrounding governorates continues to increase, with many of these persons accommodated in mosques and collective centers. (UNOCHA: Approx 3,060 families from Ninewa and 116 from Anbar have been displaced to Najaf) This trend may increase as around 694 families from Mosul, Anbar, Salah al-Din and Diyala have already reached the area.


Shelter & Camps:

Host Families: Families throughout Iraq have generously accepted fleeing families, but are facing increasing constraints on their ability to do so. As the cost of living in Kurdistan and the southern governorates remains high, cash assistance is needed for IDPs and their host families. Without it, many IDPs may have to return to dangerous areas in central Iraq.

Empty Buildings: Thousands of those without host families have found shelter in unfinished buildings, schools, government buildings , churches, mosques or collective centers.

While these accommodations may work temporarily, finding new shelter solutions is a pressing issue. The most recent UNOCHA updates states that 600 schools continue to be used for IDP activities, occupying space that will soon be needed for children as they return to school in September.

To respond to the crisis the UNHCR is working with government authorities to identify potential locations to which IDPs can be moved. Once collective centers are identified, organizations will try to provide rental support for IDPs and relocate IDPs to the centers when they are ready. (Shelter Working Group Meeting Minutes, July 16th)

Displacement Camps: The remaining IDPs live in displacement camps either in the southern governorates or near the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The most prominent of which (mentioned above) is the Khazair Displacement CampThe camp, located on the border between the Kurdistan Region and Iraq and 30km east of Mosul, hosts around 5,000 people. According to a July 3rd report from REACH, almost half of the IDPs at Khazair were there because they had been refused entry into Kurdistan.To see a map of the displacement flow to the Khazair camp click here.

The Baharka Camp, an old warehouse that was used as a transit site for refugees in August 2013has been temporarily housing IDPs who were waiting for a flight to reach the south of Iraq. In spite of its initial use, the camp is taking on more IDPs not in search for flights. For more see REACH Initiative’s most recent report on the camp.

The Garmawa Transit Site, managed by the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) in partnership with the UNHC, was established on 13 June 2014 for IDPs entering the KR-I. The camp primarily hosts those displaced from Mosul.

Update: UNOCHA reported that by August 8th, both the Khazair Camp and the Garmawa camp were empty due to fighting nearby. sites files resources IRQ_KRI_Accomodation_A3_31JUL2014OCHA.pdf
Accommodation Arrangement in Assessed Locations 23 to 29 June 2014. (Courtesy of UNOCHA)

Challenges for Response:

Humanitarian responders face four primary challenges in dealing with the current displacement crisis. First, IDPs are spread throughout the country, contributing to access and logistical challenges in helping. According to the Assessment Capacities Project (ACAPS), IDPs have been identified in 17 out of 18 governorates in Iraq.

Secondly, movement of IDPs is fluid in this crisis. Poor camp conditions, closed borders, and ongoing violence keep displaced persons from staying in one place. OCHA reports that there are 1,1231 known IDP locations across Iraq. Ongoing first and secondary displacement makes aid distribution and tracking difficult.

Thirdly, over half the displaced persons are urban based.  Humanitarian organizations often struggle to register IDPs as many are absorbed into cities. Registration and aid distribution is easier in collective centers or displacement camps.

Finally, access for humanitarian actors is restricted. Anbar, Diyala, Salah al-Din, and most of Ninewa are difficult to access at this moment. Without improved access hundreds of thousands of refugees in places like Anbar struggle to receive enough water, shelter, and food.


Iraq’s displacement issue did not begin suddenly with ISIS’ movement into the Anbar province, nor will it end quickly once the fighting subsides. With over 1.4 million displaced, this is will be a problem that not even the Saudi donation will solve. Its resolution requires a long-term commitment to Iraq’s development and humanitarian needs by the International community.

Stay tuned for our next humanitarian blog posts on Health, Education, food security, Water, Sanitation and Health programs.