IRC Meets Critical Needs in Underserved Areas in Iraq
IRC community health worker Saadi Said Mahhmud administers polio vaccine to children in Kirkuk. Most hospitals were looted of drugs in the aftermath of the war. (Photo: Peter Biro/IRC)
IRC teams based in northern and southern Iraq have launched a number of emergency programs to aid Iraqi communities most in need. After conducting extensive assessments, the IRC found serious gaps in essential services.
"IRC staff members are assisting pockets of the population, especially in underserved rural areas, without adequate sanitation, clean water and access to basic health care," says Zaki Khoury, IRC's Middle East coordinator.
The IRC is working in and around Najaf and Karbala in the south and in Erbil, Kirkuk, Dohuk and Sulaymaniyah in the north. Immediate interventions include improvements to water distribution systems, the establishment of more water access points, latrine construction and repair, sewage treatment and clean-up, garbage collection and the distribution of supplies and support for damaged or looted hospitals and clinics.
Ensuring Access to Clean Water in the South
"Water quality is poor and many treatment plants are not functioning," says Anush Harutyunyan, an IRC water engineer based in the southern city of Najaf. "So people are drinking highly contaminated water from rivers."
The IRC has launched a program in the rural, impoverished surroundings of Najaf aimed at giving some 200,000 people access to clean water by the end of September. IRC teams assessed water quality and access in 60 villages and have completed the rehabilitation of 23 water treatment units to ensure that villagers have potable water.
Restoring Basic Health Care
Iraq has seen a marked increase in rates of diarrhea and malnutrition. Meanwhile, vast numbers of clinics were looted and are lacking essential medicines. "People in Iraq are dying from water-borne and other diseases that are normally preventable through basic treatment or vaccinations," says Roberta Gately, an IRC nurse who carried out initial assessments in the south of Iraq.
The IRC has launched several primary health care projects in around the towns of Najaf, Karbala and Kirkuk, including the provision of basic drugs, minor clinic repairs, and setting-up outreach teams, which will provide health screening and referrals, pre- and ante natal care, health education and immunization schemes for rural populations. "In the summer months there is an increase in diarrhea, typhoid and cholera, exacerbated by the added burdens on the system as a result of the war," Gately says.
In the North
The IRC has also launched a one-year program to assist some 50,000 internally displaced people in predominately Kurdish northern Iraq.
"We are working through local aid organizations in the north on a series of projects aimed at improving sanitation and helping reduce water-borne diseases," says program director Christina Munzer. "IRC has so far received over 120 project proposals from nearly 20 NGOs and we plan to award a first set of contracts, worth US$300,000, in July."
In villages on the outskirts of Kirkuk, the IRC is starting sewage cleanup, repairs to 14 water treatment plants and the distribution of family hygiene kits that include water purification tablets.
In Kirkuk, garbage piles are growing. Twenty-seven of the city's 35 garbage trucks were stolen during the war, and collection has come to a near standstill.
"IRC has assembled laborers with tractors and trailers," says Field Coordinator Bob Kitchen. "We will get rid of the huge backlog of waste that has accumulated since the beginning of the war, to reduce the risk of epidemics."
Aiding Displaced Populations
The IRC is also setting up Internally Displaced Person Service Centers in the three northern provinces and in the southern town of Karbala. Three sites have been identified in the governorate where displaced persons from previous conflicts have settled. Iraqis displaced over the past decade who have fled elsewhere - including to neighboring countries - are also expected to return in large numbers to Karbala once they deem it secure.
"These people require considerable support both in services and the provision of information," says IRC's Kevin Reinhart, who runs the Karbala project. "Iraqis have been at war pretty much since 1980 and the needs of the IDPs have been neglected by the previous government."
Addressing the Needs of Children
Children continue to suffer from the ongoing insecurity in the country, and from the new hazards - such as unexploded munitions - created as a result of the war. Malnutrition and disease, such as diarrhea caused by contaminated water supplies, are common problems. To better understand the scope of the problem, the International Rescue Committee is taking part in a comprehensive assessment of the needs of children and the risks they are facing in post-conflict Iraq. The nationwide survey, launched by UNICEF, the IRC and four other implementing partners, will help the aid community design effective emergency response measures, as well as build long-term policy and practices for child protection in the country.
"We want to sit down and listen to the voices of children, youth and parents themselves, in order to get the best information about their living situation and design appropriate interventions" says IRC's child protection assessment coordinator Kunera Korthals Altes.