In 1988, during Saddam Hussein’s genocidal campaign against the country’s Kurdish population (in northern Iraq), more than 182,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands were forcibly displaced from their homes. Villages were systematically destroyed and chemical weapons used against the Kurdish population.
Today, while many communities have rebuilt their homes and villages, poverty in rural northern Iraq is still prevalent. Furthermore, since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, millions of Iraqis have been displaced from their homes. Security issues and access to basic services such as sanitation, water and health continues to affect the lives of millions of people across the country.
By early 2014, Iraq was hosting 9% of the registered Syrian refugees in the region and the number of people is projected to rise to 550,000 by the end of the year. While local communities are doing the best they can to help refugees in unofficial settlements, many refugees still struggle to meet basic needs and provide for themselves.
Attacks and bombings are still common. The security situation, especially in the south, remains a serious obstacle to development, while Iraqi state and social institutions are fragile.
The security situation in the Kurdish Region of Iraq is, by contrast, relatively stable.
More than 20% of Iraq’s population lives below the poverty line, surviving on less than $2.20 per day. Access to basic services is unreliable – for example, outside of Baghdad, more than 30% do not have access to potable water, rising to more than 50% in some rural areas.
We work through local partner organisations in both the north and south of the country, regardless of ethnicity or faith. We support communities to influence their local authorities to provide access to vital services and income generation programmes for the poorest and most vulnerable. We work to get the voices of poor Iraqis heard in the decisions that affect them, so that policies are designed to meet their needs.
As part of the Syria emergency response, we have also provided for refugees’ basic needs through distribution of food and non-food items including financial assistance, and provision of vocational training.
We also have a particular focus on women’s rights and protection. This means that as well as supporting projects that improve women’s economic situation and social empowerment, we work to end violence against women through projects targeting families and communities, the police, judiciary, media and policy makers. The focus has been advanced in the Syria emergency programme through work to prevent and respond to gender-based violence among out-of-camp Syrian refugees and host communities in the Kurdish Region.
We also support communities in southern Iraq, an area very badly affected by conflict, to provide basic support to assist communities to rebuild their lives, by for example, providing skills training for women to allow them to regain some economic independence.