Analysis of the context, crisis and needs
Of the 6 million people displaced during the conflict with ISIL, 1.3 million people remain internally displaced with limited prospects of durable solutions. Many of the 4.7 million returnees still experience acute humanitarian needs, jeopardizing sustainable returns. The impact of COVID-19, particularly the loss of livelihoods, disrupted access to services and increased protection risks (including GBV), has increased humanitarian needs among conflict-affected populations, particularly in out-of-camp and return locations.
Protracted displacement continued in 2020. Ninety-two per cent of IDPs have been displaced for more than three years, with under 1 per cent of IDPs returning per month on average. Four out of five IDPs live in out-of-camp settings. The main obstacles to return remain damaged or destroyed houses, and a lack of livelihoods and basic services in areas of origin. Insecurity in areas of origin also remains a key challenge to return.
Options for durable solutions remain limited. Progress on improving conditions in return areas at the beginning of the year was reversed by the impact of COVID-19. This complicated efforts to ensure durable solutions to displacement and jeopardized sustainable returns. Government-led camp closures since October 2020 could push in-camp IDPs into areas with limited options for a safe and dignified life.
Humanitarian needs have become more acute. COVID-19 exacerbated pre-existing vulnerabilities among conflict-affected populations, resulting in increased use of negative coping mechanisms. In-camp IDPs have become increasingly aid dependent as livelihoods were lost due to COVID-19. Acute needs have also increased in out-of-camp settings, with the percentage of out-of-camp IDPs in acute need increasing from 36 per cent to 45 per cent over the past year. Thirty-eight per cent of returnees now face acute needs, compared to 28 per cent last year. In the absence of durable, safe and dignified solutions to displacement, and due to the compounding effects of COVID-19, 4.1 million IDPs and returnees need humanitarian assistance, with more than half (2.4 million people) facing acute need.
Projected situation in 2021 and beyond
The situation in Iraq is extremely volatile due to COVID-19 and the political and security context. The humanitarian community plans for a flexible humanitarian response, adapting to the changing circumstances throughout the year.
The closure of IDP camps has been a goal of successive Iraqi administrations. In October 2020, the Government started closing several IDP camps, with more expected to close in the coming months. Based on previous experience, sudden and premature camp closures result in substantial secondary displacement, with about one third of camp departures resulting in returns unlikely to be sustainable.
COVID-19 will continue to impact the situation in the country. Iraq’s economy is projected to contract by 9.3 per cent in 2020 and poverty rates are expected to increase. Millions of people could end up using negative coping mechanisms to meet basic needs. The provision of essential health services is under pressure, and families are not accessing essential services, including immunizations and mother-and-child health care, to the same extent as in 2019. An estimated 300,000 children risk missing vaccinations, which could lead to measles outbreaks or the return of polio (eradicated in 2014).
The impact of COVID-19 hits conflict-affected populations particularly hard, but it also affects the general population. In the absence of at-scale social safety nets, more people could fall under the emergency threshold. The humanitarian community will closely monitor vulnerability levels throughout the country and take appropriate action should emergency thresholds be crossed.
Response priorities in 2021
The 2020 Iraq HRP targeted 1.8 million people. It is projected to reach 1.4 million people by the year’s end despite significant movement and access challenges. The HRP was adjusted in early 2020 to mitigate and respond to the impact of COVID-19 and to adapt implementation to the new operating environment.
The 2021 Iraq HRP will target 2.5 million people, including all IDPs in camps, out-of-camp IDPs in acute need and returnees in acute need, paying attention to age, gender and disability. The targeting criteria thus remain as in 2020. While all in-camp IDPs were reached with assistance in 2020, challenges remained to reach all IDPs out of camp and returnees (projected reach of 71 per cent and 61 per cent, respectively). With ongoing Government-led camp closures, more people are expected to move to out-of-camp settings and the response will have to adjust to address acute needs in these new locations.
Due to the increased number of people facing acute humanitarian needs, the 2021 Iraq HRP will have a decidedly humanitarian focus to alleviate suffering, and to enable the most vulnerable populations to meet basic needs, minimize the use of negative coping mechanisms, access essential services, and live-in safety and dignity.
The humanitarian community will work closely with the Durable Solutions Task Force, which will promote sustainable returns and durable solutions for conflict-affected populations and improve conditions in return areas, and with development partners and the Iraqi Government to address longer-term needs.