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Population influx is biggest problem in south

[Iraq] A map of Iraq highlighting the nine southern provinces.  [Date picture taken: 01/16/2007]
A map of Iraq highlighting the nine southern provinces. (Saeed Kudaimati/IRIN)

In a series of articles, IRIN documents the levels of violence and consequent needs of the population in six different areas of the country. Scroll to the bottom for links to the other articles in the series.

Iraq’s Shi’ite Muslim-dominated southern provinces have witnessed far less violence over the past three years than their eastern and northern counterparts. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Shi’ites have fled south or returned from abroad to seek refuge there, giving rise to a number of militias and making it increasingly difficult for aid agencies to cater to the needs of the displaced.

“Aid workers all over the country lack security. In the south, we work in difficult conditions because of the presence of militias,” said Mayada Obeid, a spokesperson for South Peace Organisation, an NGO based in Basra, some 550km south of the capital, Baghdad, and Iraq’s second biggest city.

“Sectarian differences have caused the death of many aid workers because people don’t understand us when we say we’re neutral. They would rather live without assistance than receive aid from people of a different sect.”

Iraq's southern provinces at a glance

  • Iraq's 9 southern provinces are poor and Shi'ite dominated
  • Much less violence has occured in the south with up to 10,000 killed since 2003
  • As a result, 170,000 people have fled to the south for refuge
  • And 270,000 people have returned from abroad to the south
  • This influx of Shi'ites in the south has given rise to various malitias
  • As such, aid agencies are struggling to meet the needs of the displaced in the south

Of Iraq’s 18 provinces, half are generally referred to as the country’s southern provinces. They are Dhi Qar, Basra, Maysan, Karbala, Muthanna, Wasit, Najaf, Qadisiyyah and Babil.

In its update on 8 January, US-based independent research and policy institute the Brookings Institution said 6,700 people had been killed in the southern provinces since the US-led invasion in 2003. This roughly equates to the killings in Baghdad over just three months.

However, local NGOs said the number of killed in the south was nearer 10,000 but did not want to go on record as saying that for security reasons.

Thousands of Shi’ites head south

Displaced Shi’ites have generally headed to their areas of ancestral origin in the south and where they have tribal links as this affords them a certain degree of protection.

“Every day new families are joining displacement camps in the southern areas. When we moved to our camp less than six months ago there were only 50 families, but today there are more than 200 families. You’ll find a similar situation in other camps or in abandoned buildings elsewhere in the south,” said Barak Abbas, 45, who has taken refuge in an improvised camp near Basra city.

According to figures from Basra and Muthanna provincial councils and the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), as of October 2006 there were more than 170,000 displaced people in southern Iraq, mostly as a result of sectarian violence elsewhere in the country.

Anita Raman, associate reporting officer for the Iraq Operation of the United Nations Refugees Agency (UNHCR), said that the majority of the displaced in southern provinces came from Baghdad, Diyala and Salah-al-Din provinces, areas of high-intensity fighting.

In addition to the internally displaced, there are an estimated 270,000 people who have returned to their homes in the southern provinces since 2003, according to Ministry of Trade records. Most of them are said to have come from Iran.

Since long before the US-led invasion of Iraq began in 2003, the poorer southern provinces had the most dilapidated infrastructure in the country. Raman said the strain which the influx of newcomers is putting on already poor services and a stalling economy has led to hostility toward returnees and displaced people from their host communities.

'' Crime rates, instances of abuse, especially against women and children, and child labour are on the rise in many Iraqi cities in the south''

“Perceived competition over scarce employment has meant that many skilled workers are being refused employment. Crime rates, instances of abuse, especially against women and children, and child labour are on the rise in many Iraqi cities in the south,” said Raman.

UNHCR has been helping with the distribution of essential supplies in southern areas but local NGOs claim that much more is needed as most displaced people are unemployed and do not have funds to buy food.

Humanitarian needs

According to ongoing needs assessments carried out by UNHCR, IOM and local NGOs, the main needs of the displaced in the south of Iraq are food, shelter, access to water/sanitation and non-food items.

In addition, health facilities and schools are poorly equipped and unable to respond to the needs of the increased number of people arriving there.

“Our students need supplies like books, notebooks and chairs. Most schools require urgent repairs. And teachers’ salaries continue to be low,” said Ali Kareem, media officer for the Secretary of Education at Basra provincial council.

“Children are afraid to go to school. Last year, we had the lowest attendance in our schools ever as well as a shortage of teachers because many women left their work due to ongoing violence,” Kareem added.

Hospitals have been hit hard with shortages of essential items and medicines as the government has not been able to provide full assistance to the southern provinces.

“Sometimes we lack medicines and people cannot afford to buy them from private pharmacies because prices are very high and most families are poor,” said Dr Haydar Hussein, clinician at Basra General Hospital.

“We have hospitals in southern areas but power supplies have been reduced so we depend on generators which sometimes don’t work properly. The sewage system has also deteriorated in many districts, putting local populations at risk of catching diseases,” Hussein added.

Read more articles from this series.

Anbar province plagued by violence
Baghdad most violent province in Iraq
Kurdistan, low in violence but lacking services
Kirkuk’s time-bomb could explode at any time
Violence prevails in Saddam’s home province


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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