WASHINGTON DC - The violence in Iraq is overshadowing a humanitarian crisis, with eight million Iraqis – nearly one in three – in need of emergency aid, says a report released today by international agency Oxfam and NCCI, a network of aid organizations working in Iraq.
The report "Rising to the Humanitarian Challenge in Iraq" says that although the horrific security situation is the biggest problem facing most ordinary Iraqis, the government of Iraq and other influential governments can and must do more to meet people's basic needs for water, sanitation, food and shelter.
According to the report:
- Four million Iraqis – 15% - regularly cannot buy enough to eat.
- 70% are without adequate water supplies, compared to 50% in 2003.
- 28% of children are malnourished, compared to 19% before the 2003 invasion.
- 92% of Iraqi children suffer learning problems, mostly due to the climate of fear.
- More than two million people – mostly women and children - have been displaced inside Iraq.
- A further two million Iraqis have become refugees, mainly in Syria and Jordan.
Jeremy Hobbs, Director of Oxfam International, said: "The terrible violence in Iraq has masked the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Malnutrition among children has dramatically increased and basic services, ruined by years of war and sanctions, cannot meet the needs of the Iraqi people. Millions of Iraqis have been forced to flee the violence, either to another part of Iraq or abroad. Many of those are living in dire poverty.
"Despite the terrible violence the Iraqi government, the UN and the international community could do more to meet people's needs right now," Hobbs continued. "The Iraqi government must commit to helping Iraq's poorest citizens, including the internally displaced, by extending food parcel distribution and cash payments to the vulnerable. Western donors must work through Iraqi and international aid organizations and develop more flexible systems to ensure these organizations operate effectively and efficiently.
"The fighting and weak Iraqi institutions mean there are severe limits on what humanitarian work can be carried out. Nevertheless more can and should be done to help the Iraqi people."
While there is an urgent need for greater humanitarian assistance, Oxfam and NCCI believe that ending the conflict must be the top priority for everyone involved in Iraq. The Iraqi government and US-led coalition must also ensure their troops respect their moral and legal obligations not to harm civilians and their property.
The Iraqi government should immediately extend its food parcel distribution program, increase emergency cash payments and support local aid organizations. The government should also take a more decentralized approach and allow local authorities to deliver aid. Foreign governments, especially the US and UK, should support Iraqi ministries in implementing these policies.
Oxfam had staff working inside Iraq but withdrew them due to chronic security problems. It now supports domestic and international aid agencies which are able to operate in Iraq. Although violence and insecurity restrict aid workers from helping Iraqis in need, an Oxfam survey in April 2007 found that over 80% of aid agencies working in Iraq could do more humanitarian work if they had more money.
Many humanitarian organizations will not accept money from governments that have troops in Iraq, as this could jeopardize their own security and independence. Therefore the report urges international donor governments that have not sent troops to Iraq to provide increased emergency funding for humanitarian action.