Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 the humanitarian situation has been deteriorating steadily. The attack on February 22, 2006, on the Holy shi’a Al-Askari Mosque in Samarra, set the country on the edge of civil war. These dramatic events justified acts of sectarian violence and worsened the already critical living conditions of the Iraqi population. Assassinations, kidnappings, suicide bombings are daily events and Première Urgence staff reports that “the distinguishable stench of decomposing corpses can be detected as far as two kilometres from the overflowing Baghdad morgue”.
Première Urgence, implementing projects in Iraq since 1997, bears witness to the most critical humanitarian situation ever.
15 governorates are affected by the flow of IDPs
Over 230’000 Iraqis have been internally displaced since February 2006. The majority of those displaced are moving in with friends and family, placing new burdens on their host communities. Others are moving into abandoned buildings, such as factories, schools, and unoccupied military facilities or into camps set up by either the Iraqi Minister of Migration and Displacement or the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (1).
Over 3’000 individuals are fleeing Iraq daily. More than 1 million refugees are already in Jordan, Syria and other Arab countries where they meet with precarious living conditions, with few or no rights. For instance, in Jordan, children of unregistered Iraqis are not accepted in public schools, jeopardizing their own future and the future of their country.
A disastrous economic situation
Chaos and insecurity put a heavy toll on the economy. In August 2006 (2), unemployment reached an all-time high of 70%. Moreover, the 76% (3), inflation rate has a direct impact on the living conditions of the Iraqi population, affecting mainly the most vulnerable: 20% of children are underweight and one third is chronically malnourished (4).
According to the Ministry of Labour, the level of poverty is up by 35% since 2003 and 5.6 million Iraqis live now below the poverty line, 40% of them (2.2 million persons) living in utterly attrocious conditions."
Degradation of the sanitary conditions and health services
Jihadist attacks, nationalist insurgency, communal conflicts and militia rivalries lead to the collapse of most social services.
Within the framework of its assistance programmes to health structures, Premiere-Urgence is confronted on a day to day basis with the dramatic security and sanitary conditions of Hospitals and Primary Health Care Centres located in central and southern Iraq. 90% of the 180 hospitals countrywide are lacking resources (5). 25% of procured medicines are said be lost to fraud, bribery and other corrupt practices (6).
Yarmouk hospital, which has been supported by PU since 1998, has serious security issues : Policemen, military personnel and militiamen regularly storm the Emergency Rooms seeking treatment for their comrades, firing shots in the hospital to intimidate the patients and threaten the medical staff. Every month dozens of doctors abandon their duty fearing for their lives. IMA (Iraqi Medical Association) states that 50% of the 34’000 registered doctors in 2003, have left the country.
This same scenario persists daily in most of the city hospitals. Iraqi hospitals are dangerous places. The sectarian violence also has a direct impact on all health services :
For instance, Sunni Arabs are nervous of going to the central Baghdad morgue to look for their dead relatives because they fear they may be targeted by Shia gunmen.
Emergency services are in disarray. Ambulances have no equipment and paramedics lack the basic skills in first aid, exacerbating the mortality rate, as often casualties often before reaching the hospital.
Almost daily, Premiere Urgence’s field team receives requests from emergency departments’ managers, for emergency supplies of consumables and drugs. The requests are nearly always the same: “We have just received xx (usually 20 to 30) bombed car / mortar / gun shot casualties, our stock will not cover the needs. We contacted the Ministry of Health, but as usual, there was no response. Can you send us some medical supplies, please ?”.
Today, in a country whose health services were once renowned, emergency departments are no more than halls with beds, fluid suckers, and oxygen bottles.
(1) Emergency Assessment. IOM. 30 October 2006
(2) Source : Iraqi Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs
(3) Source : Iraqi Ministry of Finance (Aug 2005 to Aug 2006 )
(4) Source : IFRC 20/10/06
(5) IRIN 7 November 2006
(6) WHO, UN news center 16 November 2003