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Another million people could flee homes this year

The United Nations and international agencies have warned that if sectarian violence in Iraq does not abate, up to a million new people could become displaced in 2007, putting an increasing burden on the country’s infrastructure and resources.

“At the current rate of 40,000 to 50,000 a month, up to 2.3 million might be permanently displaced by the end of this year," Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told the Arab League in Cairo on Sunday.

He added that of Iraq’s population of about 27 million, 1.8 million people had already been displaced within the country and another two million had fled its borders, with one million having gone to Syria, 750,000 to Jordan and 150,000 to Egypt.

“The biggest displacement in the Middle East since the dramatic events of 1948 has now forced one in eight Iraqis from their homes," Guterres said, referring to the Palestinian exodus that followed the creation of Israel.

"Last year alone, we estimate that nearly 500,000 Iraqis moved to other areas inside the country," he said, adding that UNCHR was seeking US $60 million this year to help Iraqi refugees and displaced, more than double what was spent last year.

The UN itself chose to leave Iraq in 2003, after its Baghdad headquarters were bombed twice, killing 25 people, mostly UN staff. Since then, UN agencies have handled Iraq from Amman, Jordan but are stepping up efforts to address the country’s multifaceted humanitarian problem.

Single humanitarian plan

John Holmes, the UN’s new Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said in a press conference on Monday that he would be working very closely with the Iraqi Government and NGOs to have a “single humanitarian plan for the country and the refugees and IDPs and food needs and to establish what the real needs are”.

Holmes said that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which he heads, would be setting up a new OCHA office in Amman to ensure that Iraq’s humanitarian problems were not overshadowed by political issues, issues of violence and the future of the country. It was time to bring the humanitarian side onto the agenda “rather more clearly and visibly”, he said.

 
Photo: UNOCHA  

Sir John Holmes is working to have a "single humanitarian plan for the country and the refugees and IDPs and food needs and to establish what the real needs are".

The UN, the Iraqi government and NGOs say effectively meeting the needs of such a large number of displaced people in Iraq is one of the most pressing problems that needs addressing. While aid is getting through, much more needs to be done.

Local NGOs and UN agencies say that there is an urgent need for the provision of emergency items and add that displaced people are tired of continuous visits and interviews with questionnaires to fill.

“Usually those who have the economic means or the contacts are leaving the country, so those who are left to be internally displaced tend to be the most vulnerable,” Rafiq Tschannen, Chief of Mission of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), told IRIN. These, Tschannen added, were children and the elderly.

Children’s education is disrupted, lack of family income sometimes forces them to work, and witnessing violence causes psychological issues that have not been addressed,” Tschannen said.

The IOM said that between 1,500 and 2,000 individuals are displaced daily in Iraq, with the most critical areas being Anbar and Baghdad provinces in the centre of the country, and Kerbala and Basra provinces in the south. The migration agency added that one million people could be displaced in 2007 if security does not drastically improve.

Emergency provisions

IOM provides emergency provisions in almost all Iraq’s 18 provinces. In total, IOM reached over 33,000 families over the past year with deliveries of food, water, and non-food items such as mattresses, hygiene kits, kitchen sets, plastic sheeting, kerosene and kerosene stoves, blankets, and baby items, said Tschannen.

Displacement in Iraq

  • UNHCR says a total of just less than two million people are displaced throughout Iraq.
  • Of that figure, more than 700,000 people were displaced after the bombing of a shrine in Samarra on 22 February, 2006, which triggered the sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia Muslims.
  • Northern Iraq has more displaced people than any other area of the country, with about 720,000 IDPs - 85,000 of them arriving after the Samarra bombing.
  • The southern areas of Iraq have about 700,000 IDPs – 310,000 of them arriving after the Samarra bombing.
  • The central provinces, which include the capital, Baghdad, have about 460,000 IDPs – 320,000 of them arriving after the Samarra bombing.


With one in 10 children under five underweight, according to UNICEF, the distribution of food to the population, particularly the displaced, is of major concern to aid agencies.

Access to food rations is a problem due to obstacles in transferring and registering with the public distribution system (PDS) and, if registered, complete rations are often not regularly reaching IDPs because of transportation-related issues and constant shortages.

Lack of access to food is particularly acute in areas where military operations are taking place, sectarian or factional violence is prevalent or militias are in control, causing insecure transportation routes.

Potable water, sanitation and health services are urgent needs, particularly in small cities and rural areas.

“The new burden put on them [amenities and services] by the arrival of IDPs has resulted in many of the structures becoming seriously deficient. Consequently, many IDPs either have difficulties in accessing water due to distance or some only have access to non-potable water,” said Anita Raman, Associate Reporting Officer for UNHCR Iraq Operation. “We're always working to provide shelter, water, food, health, income and other basic needs.”

Mahmoud Rabia’a, 52, lives in an improvised camp on the outskirts of the capital, Baghdad. He faces an uncertain and bleak future with sectarian violence raging in the city and greater numbers of other displaced people joining his ranks.

“Our survival is getting more difficult each day,” he said. “The infrastructure is still lacking and we are forced to depend on water from the river because, with the daily increase in people joining our camps, we get fewer supplies each day.”

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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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