Remarks on the Humanitarian Situation in Iraq

Sarah Sewall
Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights 
New York City
September 30, 2015

Hello everyone and thank you all for being here.

Today we face a rapidly growing crisis of displacement in Iraq that calls on all of us to do more.

Since January 2014, nearly 3.2 million Iraqis have been displaced over more than 3,500 locations across the country. Humanitarian agencies are facing growing challenges in providing relief. As the front lines of the conflict have shifted, many families have been forced to move multiple times, making it far harder to locate them. Others remain displaced in extremely unsafe areas that are not easily accessed for relief.

And the outlook is not improving. As forces aligned with the Government of Iraq fight to retake areas controlled by ISIL, the humanitarian and displacement crisis in Iraq is expected to worsen even further.

In June, the UN issued a revised appeal, or Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP). It predicted that the number of Iraqis in need would rise from an estimated 8.2 to 10 million by the end of the year and called for $498 million to cover humanitarian needs in Iraq through December 2015.

While the humanitarian needs in Iraq remain staggering, this appeal was far less than the $2.2 billion requested from October 2014 – December 2015. That is because it prioritized projects to include only those considered immediate “life-saving” activities.

Yet even this bare bones appeal to fund life-saving activities has only been funded at 39 percent. The United States is extremely concerned about this meager response.

Because of insufficient funds, critical humanitarian programs have and will shut down.

This past May, food rations for over a million people living outside IDP camps were halved, and the World Food Program was forced to drastically scale back their monthly assistance to displaced and conflict-affected people. While it originally aimed to assist 2.2 million people per month in Iraq, it can now only aid 1.5 million.

At the end of July, more than 180 of 220 front-line health facilities shut down because of insufficient funds. As a result, more than 500,000 children will not be vaccinated – increasing their risk of contracting measles and other potentially fatal diseases.

At the end of October, some 50 percent of shelter and relief item distribution programs will scale back. As a result, nearly 300,000 newly displaced Iraqis may not receive emergency shelter, and many will be forced to live in the open as winter approaches.

By November 2015, More than 90 percent of education programs for IDP youth will close by November 2015, forcing 420,000 displaced children out of school. An estimated 85 percent of water and sanitation programs will also close, leaving 1.8 million IDPs – including 900,000 children – without access to safe and sufficient drinking water and sanitation.

We simply cannot let this happen.

The United States will do its part by contributing an additional $56 million in humanitarian assistance for Iraqis in the region. This funding aims to provide millions of Iraqi civilians affected by the conflict – including 3.2 million internally displaced persons and 370,000 refugees with critically needed relief like food, clean water, health care, psychosocial services, child protection, legal aid, shelter, livelihood support, education, and logistics.

With this new funding, the United States will have contributed nearly $534 million to address the needs of vulnerable Iraqis since the start of Fiscal Year 2014. In keeping with humanitarian principles, our aid is needs-based, independent, neutral, impartial, and universal. In addition to our humanitarian assistance, we have resettled more than 125,000 Iraqi refugees in the United States since 2007.

Even with our new contribution, however, funding shortfalls will continue to constrain humanitarian responses to existing and new emergency needs in Iraq, including the recent outbreak of cholera in the country – an illness that can be prevented with adequate water, sanitation, and hygiene but has claimed at least six lives over the past two weeks. There are more than 1,200 probable cases, and that is likely just the tip of the iceberg.

Another concern is the limited freedom of movement many Iraqi IDPs face while fleeing conflict. Many cannot reach their desired destination, experience delays at multiple checkpoints, often for weeks at a time, have their identification confiscated, or face difficulty registering for government assistance. Civilians must be allowed to flee to safer areas.

Additionally, in some cases displaced civilians have been forced to return before it was safe to do so, while others have been prevented from doing so entirely. People should return home voluntarily in safety and dignity.

While the Government of Iraq (GOI) and the Kurdistan Regional Government are taking steps to provide for the 3.2 million IDPs and the 250,000 Syrian refugees in Iraq, the scope of the challenge demands more support from the international community.

The GOI is supplying food rations through its Public Distribution System where possible. It has also registered 600,000 IDP families and will provide cash grants to the overwhelming majority of them. The dramatic drop in oil prices and ongoing cost of fighting ISIL has left the GOI with fewer means to address this crisis on its own. Greater support is needed from the international community.

Though we applaud contributions by other donors, more must be provided now. With that in mind, I encourage everyone here to meet this challenge with concrete contributions to aid millions of Iraqis in desperate need.