Humanitarian overview on the verge of conflict in Iraq

With a deadline for military action looming just across the border, UN agencies and NGOs based in Amman, Jordan are putting the final touches on their planned response to any possible humanitarian fallout from neighbouring Iraq.

Jordan has become the primary regional hub of NGO activity, due to its relative ease of entry and movement and its proximity to Iraq and the surrounding region. More than 40 international NGOs are currently in Amman, with additional groups arriving daily.

Jordan shares a 181 km border with Iraq. However, in order to reach it, some 500 km of desert must be traversed. While previous refugee flows into Jordan were far greater than current estimates - some 60,000 arrived in 1991 - that was at a time when Iraqis were more prosperous, arriving in their own vehicles, with goods and money to spare.

UN agencies have lamented the unwillingness of donors to provide funds to date, about US $46 million of a total $123 million sought for contingency planning throughout the region has thus far been received - forcing agencies to borrow from other offices, potentially straining their capacities to respond to crises elsewhere in the world. Nevertheless, it has not stopped
them from planning, and a flash appeal is expected to be launched in the event of an eruption of hostilities.

Anticipated needs

An inter-agency contingency plan has anticipated that the majority of population movement from Iraq to Jordan will gather close to the border crossing at Karameh, at which point they will be screened by Jordanian authorities. Two main categories of beneficiaries are expected: an estimated 34,000 refugees, and an estimated 60,000 Third Country Nationals (TCNs), primarily from Egypt and Sudan, who will be transiting through Jordan en route to their countries of origin. However, in the event of a prolonged conflict, numbers arriving are expected to surpass these estimates, unless the route to the border is cut off by armed conflict.

Separate camps for each of these two groups have been identified. The first, for refugees, is located in Ruwaished, about 60 km from the Iraqi border, just east of Ruwaished town. According to UNHCR, preparations are ongoing to prepare the site for up to 10,000 people. The site could ultimately host up
to 20,000 people. Electricity and water are available, and a desalinisation plant to enhance water quality has been installed by the government. The second, for TCNs, also near Ruwaished, is being prepared on behalf of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) by the Jordanian Red Crescent. IOM will provide TCNs with transportation from Jordan to their countries of origin.

Sten Bronee, UNHCR country representative for Jordan, who had just visited the camps, told IRIN on Tuesday that there was still lots to do. "Infrastructure is nearly completed, electricity was installed today, showers and latrines are due to be ready in the coming days," he said. "We have tents and non-food items in place for 10,000 people. We've not yet reached a state of final preparedness, but a state in which we can receive
refugees in reasonable conditions.

A third group also under consideration would, of course, include Jordanians who find themselves adversely affected by the influx of large numbers of people into their country. Should the need arise, humanitarian agencies plan to issue an appeal for funds to help mitigate any negative economic impacts that result.

A contingency planning committee comprising UN agencies, the IOM, the International Federation of the Red Cross, and the ICRC has met regularly to promote emergency preparedness and to update the contingency plan as needed. UN cooperation with NGOs, as well as cooperation among NGOs themselves, has been enhanced by weekly meetings hosted by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), with several donor agencies.

Meanwhile, sector-specific working groups including UN agencies, NGOs, and government representatives have also been meeting on a regular basis to coordinate the planning and implementation of programmes in nine sectors: food and nutrition; health; water and sanitation; registration and protection; logistics and transport; shelter and non-food items; education; security; and mitigation.

In addition to coordinating with the government at this sectoral level, the UN is liaising with high level government representatives and the Jordan Hashemite Charity Foundation to ensure cooperation for planning, access to border areas, and eventual implementation of humanitarian operations.

State of readiness

Asked about their state of readiness as far as Jordan is concerned, most UN agencies and NGOs said they were comfortable with their present levels of staffing and materiel, although nearly all lamented a general unwillingness on the part of donors to provide sufficient financial support.

"We're as prepared as we could be with the resources that have been made available to us," said Christine McNab, the UN Resident Coordinator for Jordan. "With the very little money we received up front, we've managed to get camps up. Agencies have scraped together funds to get experts in place on short-term contracts because no one knows if future funding will be
available."

Maarten Roest, WFP Information Officer for Jordan, concurred with McNab's assessment. "Our main constraint is funding," she said. "Nevertheless, operations are going quite well, preparedness is going very smoothly. We're almost set, with food stocks for up to 40,000 people for two and a half months already in place in Amman, from which it is an eight-hour truck drive
to the camps. Specifically, Roest noted, WFP had 700 mt of wheat flour, 2,700 mt of rice, 360 mt of chickpeas, 150 mt of soybean oil, and 20 mt of high-energy biscuits already in place.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) was confident it could meet the needs of uprooted Iraqi women and children that could arrive in Jordan. "I think we're pretty ready," Hind-Lara Mango, communication officer for the UNICEF-Jordan country office told IRIN. "We've been coordinating with the UN and government for the past several months. Every year we have contingency plans in place [for emergencies within Jordan], so this is normal routine for us except that in this case we're dealing with refugees from Iraq. She noted that UNICEF's two primary areas of intervention would be in the domains of education and psycho-social support, "the aim of which is to give mothers and children a sense of routine and normalcy.

World Health Organization country representative for Jordan, Dr. Ala'Din Alwan, was also guardedly optimistic. "I think we are doing reasonably well. We have decided responsibilities and roles, we have people in place in the camps. We have had excellent collaboration with the government, our communication and coordination with the Ministry of Health, as well as with
UN agencies and NGOs are excellent." However, he cautioned, "we don't have any clear idea what we're expecting in terms of refugees." Alwan noted that during the past couple of months, WHO had pre-positioned emergency supplies for an estimated 40,000 refugees for an initial period of three months.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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