While the security situation in Iraq has slowly but steadily improved, there are many humanitarian needs that still have to be met. The ICRC has been improving its ability to do so. Magne Barth, the outgoing head of the ICRC delegation in Iraq, explains.
What is the situation in Iraq today and what are the ICRC’s priorities?
Iraq still faces a lot of challenges. The level of violence linked to the conflict is slowly decreasing, but its cost remains high in terms of civilian casualties. Central Iraq and Baghdad, especially, remain volatile, unpredictable and often dangerous due to acts of violence that still claim the lives of tens of persons every month. Meanwhile, the political process is still facing a lot of obstacles.
The ICRC is expanding its humanitarian activities cautiously but deliberately. Our priority at the ICRC is to remain focussed on the areas and people most affected by the conflict and other violence. This means that we have to further expand our humanitarian work in the disputed territories and in the belt around Baghdad, giving priority to women heading households, physically disabled people, primary health in rural areas, displaced people and others who are not getting the services they are entitled to. The issue of missing persons continues to be one of our priorities.
Furthermore, in line with our mandate, our work in behalf of detainees will continue to focus on conditions of detention and issues of treatment. The ICRC has generally good access, and this is an area in which we can talk to the authorities on how to improve compliance with international standards where necessary.
As the country develops its great economic potential, the ICRC has scaled back and focused its assistance services. Nevertheless, we will continue to reach out to vulnerable groups and areas, and to provide the authorities with technical advice on how essential services can be improved. Increasingly, the ICRC is running medium- and long-term projects to help people make a living. The groups concerned include, for instance, women who are heading households, people with physical disabilities and displaced persons.
How do you see the situation on the Turkish and Iranian borders? What is the ICRC doing for the people affected?
Three decades of conflict have left hundreds of thousands of families struggling to find out what happened to their missing loved ones. Abandoning the search is not an option. Since 1980, the ICRC has spared no effort to put an end to their anguish. Operational update, March-May 2011.
"Iraq is currently one of the countries with the highest number of missing persons and, as a result, with the highest number of families seeking information on their missing relatives," said ‘Dika Dulic’, the ICRC delegate in charge of issues relating to missing persons in Iraq. A lack of clear statistics, however, makes it difficult to accurately establish the true size of the problem.
Baghdad resident Hayat has led a sad life since her husband disappeared on 8 April 2003. "I lost hope," she said. "In the past nine years I have searched every prison. I ended up convincing myself that my husband Abdallah must have died."
In April, the remains of 17 Iranian soldiers killed in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War were handed over from the Iraqi to the Iranian authorities under ICRC auspices at the Shalamja border crossing, near Basra.
As a neutral intermediary, the ICRC facilitates the dialogue between the parties who were involved in the Iran-Iraq war and the Gulf war and who carry the responsibility to clarify the fate of persons still unaccounted for. This includes:
supporting authorities in the collection of information
facilitating transmission of information between the parties chairing meetings
facilitating joint missions in the field and the handover of human remains
The ICRC continues to provide training and other support for the Ministry of Human Rights, Basra’s Al-Zubair Centre of Iraq and Baghdad’s Medical-Legal Institute.
Bringing aid to people facing hardship
Many people in Iraq are still struggling to earn a living and support their families. Between March and May, the ICRC:
Distributed over 8 million Iraqi Dinars through cash-for-work scheme, to 450 vulnerable displaced people and residents of Deralok in Dohuk governorate;
Awarded 108 grants to disabled people and women-headed households in Ninawa, Kirkuk, Basra, Missan, Erbil, Baghdad and Sulaimaniya, enabling them to start small businesses and regain economic self-sufficiency.
Distributed individual food and hygiene parcels, including essential household items, to 2475 internally displaced households, benefiting some 14850 people, in the group settlements of Ninawa, Kirkuk and Wasit;
Following heavy rainfalls and consequential flooding in Ninawa, Erbil and Salah Al-Din governorates in April, the ICRC assisted affected/displaced households, distributing: 4984 blankets, 634 towels, 1340 hygiene parcels, 1315 tarpaulins, 317 kitchen sets,
763 food parcels, and 11.1 metric tons of rice. The ICRC assistance also reached families affected by the floods in Rabea and Baaj districts.
Assisting health-care facilities
NAIROBI, 3 March 2011 (IRIN) – Several Middle Eastern countries such as Iraq and Yemen are unlikely to achieve the education-for-all Millennium Development Goals by 2015 because of insecurity and conflict, according to a new report by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The education-for-all goals were endorsed by more than 160 countries in 2000. But according to Kevin Watkins, director of UNESCO’s 2011 Global Monitoring Report, children and education are not just getting caught in the cross-fire, they are increasingly the targets of violent conflict.
"The failure of governments to protect human rights is causing children deep harm – and taking away their only chance of an education," he said.
The UNESCO report, entitled The Hidden Crisis: Armed Conflict and Education, says 35 countries were affected by armed conflict between 1999 and 2008, several in the Middle East. “Children and schools are on the front line of these conflicts, with classrooms, teachers and pupils seen as legitimate targets,” it noted.
Recent demonstrations and clashes in Egypt led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, but also closed many schools. In mid-February, half-term was extended for two weeks. Schools in only seven of the country’s 29 governorates reopened after the recess, according to sources in Cairo.
The Interior Ministry deployed police outside schools to beef up security and encourage a return to school, but thousands of parents still preferred to keep their children at home.
“A deteriorating security situation hinders the opening of the schools and this affects the whole educational process,” Fathi al-Sharqawi, a professor of educational psychology at Cairo’s Ain Shams University, told IRIN. “Teachers will have to skip some parts of the curricula after the students go back to their classrooms, which will also affect these students’ learning badly.”
Hundreds of parents have complained that their children are attacked by thugs on their way to school, according to human rights groups. The Egyptian Centre for Human Rights, for example, said some parents complain that criminals use weapons to grab money from children.
Manal Abdul Aziz, an Egyptian journalist who opted for home-based tuition for her two children, told IRIN in Cairo: “There is total obscurity about the future of this academic year.” The cost of hiring five teachers for her two children (aged 12 and 15) is the equivalent of US$169 a month – a significant sum for most families.
Decades of war in Iraq, UN sanctions, poor security and the economic situation have adversely affected education and increased illiteracy levels. According to data produced by the government and UNESCO in September, at least five million of Iraq’s almost 30 million people are illiterate. Of these, 14 percent are school-age children who left school to feed their families, are displaced or have no access to suitable schooling.
Ahmed Khalid Jaafar, 14, told IRIN in Baghdad that he left school after his father died in an explosion three years ago, and sought work on the streets to feed his mother and two younger daughters.
"I sell gum and my mother works is a seamstress," said Jaafar. "We make 200,000-300,000 dinars (US$160-250) a month. We spend that money on the most important things, mainly food. School is not important now." Jaafar and his family squat in an abandoned government building.
The September data show that adult illiteracy in Iraq is now one of the highest in the Arab region. In rural areas, almost 30 percent of the population are unable to read or write. Significant gender disparities exist, with 40 percent of the illiterate being women.
Bahrain is on track to achieve the goal of halving illiteracy levels by 2015, but countries like Iraq, Mauritania and Sudan are off track. "The recent experiences of Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait and Yemen show that literacy policy can be effective: all four countries have increased their adult literacy rates by at least 20 percentage points in the past 15-20 years," the UNESCO report said.
In Yemen, a reallocation of 10 percent of the military budget to education would put an additional 840,000 children in school. In the north, 220 schools were destroyed, damaged or looted during fighting in 2009 and 2010 between government and rebel forces, according to the report. "In Yemen, many internally displaced children complement family income by begging, smuggling or collecting refuse, and there are concerns that child labour is increasing."
In Syria, attendance rates in pre-school programmes varied from less than 4 percent for children in the poorest households, to just above 18 percent for wealthy households.
In harm’s way
According to the report, armed conflict places children directly in harm’s way. Some get killed while others are exploited as soldiers or forced to flee their homes and become refugees.
“Children subject to the trauma, insecurity and displacement that come with armed conflict are unlikely to achieve their potential for learning,” it said. All too often, armed groups see the destruction of schools and the targeting of schoolchildren and teachers as a legitimate military strategy.
In conflict situations, children fear to go to school, teachers to give classes and parents to send their children to school. According to UNESCO, in such situations, children suffer psychological trauma, as well as loss of parents, siblings and friends. One survey of Iraqi refugee children in Jordan found that 39 percent reported having lost someone close to them, and 43 percent witnessed violence.
“Armed conflict remains a major roadblock to human development in many parts of the world, yet its impact on education is widely neglected,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. “This groundbreaking report documents the scale of this hidden crisis, identifies its root causes and offers solid proposals for change.”
A worsening water shortage in Iraq is raising tensions in the multi-ethnic Kirkuk province, where Arab farmers accuse the Kurdistan region of ruining them by closing the valves to a dam in winter.
"We are harmed by the Kurds, and the officials responsible for Baghdad and Kirkuk will not lift a finger," said Sheikh Khaled al-Mafraji, a leader of the Arab Political Council that groups mainly Sunni tribal leaders.
At the heart of the conflict is the Dukan dam, built in 1955 in Iraq’s northern autonomous region of Kurdistan, 75 kilometres (50 miles) northeast of Kirkuk province.
"They release too much water from June to September while from October it is the opposite: there is not enough drinking water and even less to irrigate our lands," Mafraji complained.
Kirkuk province with its rich oil reserves has 250,000 hectares (617,740 acres) of arable land and 16 percent of its workforce engaged in agriculture, according to UN figures. Winter crops include wheat and corn, and summer harvests are mainly sesame, tomatoes and watermelon.
A UN factsheet in October 2010 showed that while more rain fell in 2009 compared with 2008, the situation is still critical. Rainfall is now 50 percent below average.
"The central government must intervene immediately to ask that our brothers in the north (Kurds) provide the necessary amounts of water for irrigation," Mafraji said, threatening to hold demonstrations if his voice was not heard.
Out of Kirkuk’s estimated 900,000 inhabitants, some 31 percent live in rural areas, UN data shows. They represent all of Iraq’s faiths, and are ethnic Arabs, Turkmen or Kurds.
Largely because of its oil riches, Kirkuk is at the centre of a tussle between Iraq’s central government and authorities in Kurdistan, who want to add it to their own region, currently made up of three provinces.
"Our suffering began in 2005, when the peasants were forced to set aside one-third of their land and cultivate only small patches near the artesian well" where there was water, said Abdul Rahman al-Obeidi, who owns 450 hectares west of Kirkuk.
"The peasants claimed that they (the Kurds) cut off water supplies to force them to leave the area. They do not understand there is a shortage and believe it is a political conflict," he added.
For him, it "is the lack of coordination between the authorities in Baghdad and Sulaimaniyah (the province in which the Dukan dam lies) which fuels the notion that the Kurds are responsible."
The growing water deficit and dams built by Iraq’s neighbours have significantly reduced the water flow in a country that was until the late 1950s a breadbasket of the Arab world.
"The dam holds 1.3 million cubic metres of water," said Shihab Hakim Nader, director of water resources in Kirkuk province.
"There is a strategic reserve of 700,000 cubic metres (which must not be used), which means there remains 600,000 cubic metres that can be used. But the rain is becoming more scarce, and the level of the dam is decreasing."
"Also, the Kirkuk area receives only 30 cubic metres per second of water, when it should be receiving 75. This is only sufficient for drinking water," he added.
The issue is a ticking bomb in a province with strong ethnic loyalties, where Arabs accuse Kurds of intentionally harming the province.
"The water issue is critical, and thousands of people driven to unemployment blame their situation on Kurdistan," said Sheikh Burhan Mezher, the head of Kirkuk’s agriculture department.
According to Tahseen Kader, a former minister of water resources for the Kurdistan region’s government, the closure of Dukan’s gates is routine and not a matter for concern.
"Every year, even during the time of the old regime (of Saddam Hussein who was ousted in 2003) we used to close the dam gates during the winter," he said.
Kader said that was done "to conserve water for agriculture in the late spring, and for the production of electricity," and claimed the notion that political motives had driven the dam closure was absurd.
"The majority of the inhabitants of the province of Kirkuk are Kurdish, so why would we harm them? We don’t want to harm anyone," he said.
The persistent lack of security is hampering efforts to provide essential services for civilians. The ICRC is doing its utmost to help meet the most pressing needs. This is an update on these and otherICRC activities carried out in Iraq in September and October.
Despite improvements in the security situation achieved over the years in many parts of Iraq, ongoing violence continues to claim the lives of hundreds of men, women and children every month, and to have a serious impact on the lives of many more.
Over the past year, the lives of many Iraqi civilians have not changed for the better. Civilians continue to carry the heaviest burden amid the widespread violence. They are still the main victims of the indiscriminate attacks and mass explosions that have taken place in cities such as Baghdad, Ninewa, Diyala, Anbar, Najaf, Kerbala and Basra, and that have left, on average, hundreds of people wounded or dead each month this year.
"Indiscriminate attacks against civilians inflict tremendous suffering. They are clearly unacceptable. They are contrary to international humanitarian law and to the most basic principles of humanity," said Magne Barth, head of the ICRC delegation in Iraq. "Civilians must be protected against violence, as must be medical personnel and facilities".
The humanitarian situation in Iraq remains serious. Iraqis are filled with anxiety and uncertainty about what the future holds. Vulnerable people, such as women heading households, disabled people and detainees, continue to depend to some extent on outside help to meet basic needs.
The persistent lack of security and wanton violence have had a considerable effect on the feasibility of providing essential services for the population. The ICRC is doing its utmost to help meet the most pressing needs, especially in rural areas and in the places hardest hit by the conflict and other violence. ICRC activities aim primarily at ensuring that people have access to adequate health, water and sanitation services, and at helping the destitute and other needy people.
Visits to detainees held under Iraqi, Kurdistan Regional Government and USF-I authority remain a priority for the ICRC. "Ensuring that detainees are treated humanely and are held in conditions that respect their dignity has been our constant concern since we started working in Iraq 30 years ago," said Mr Barth.
The ICRC continues to speak out about the plight of conflict victims in Iraq. It does so in dialogue with as many parties as possible that can influence the situation on the ground. Its aim is to bring about greater respect for civilians and detainees, and to ensure that unimpeded access is granted for humanitarian action to help the people in greatest need throughout the country.
"The role of the ICRC, as an impartial humanitarian organization, is crucial to efforts to protect civilians from harm and to ensure that detainees are properly treated and held in decent conditions," said Mr Barth.
In September and October 2010, in response to the unstable and often changing security environment, the ICRC made further adjustments to its working procedures so that it could continue to provide services to those who need them most.
Bringing aid to vulnerable people
The ICRC has maintained its support for people facing special difficulties earning a living and supporting their families, such as women heading households and people with disabilities. In September and October:
- hygiene kits and food parcels were provided for more than 5,600 people in the governorate of Mosul;
- emergency aid was provided for more than 170 displaced people in Sulaimaniya governorate;
- 95 grants were made in Kirkuk, Ninewa, Dohuk, Sulaimaniya and Erbil governorates to enable disabled people to start small businesses and regain economic self-sufficiency. Around 700 disabled people have received such aid since 2008;
- the livestock of 731 needy farmers in the Kifri district of Diyala governorate were vaccinated;
- around 950 metric tonnes of wheat seed were delivered to some 3,800 farmers in the governorates of Diyala, Anbar, Salahadin, Baghdad and Babil to help them restore their food production;
- 50 kilometres of irrigation canals serving over 7,000 people were cleaned and renovated in the Khalis and Kifri districts of Diyala governorate;
- 600 sheep and 38 metric tonnes of fodder were distributed to 200 farmers in the Baaj district of Ninewa governorate.
Assisting hospitals and physical rehabilitation centres
In some rural and conflict-prone areas, health-care services are still struggling to meet the needs of the civilian population. The ICRC continues to help renovate the premises of health-care facilities and train staff. Limb-fitting and physical rehabilitation services are provided by the ICRC to help disabled people reintegrate into the community. In September and October:
- 10 doctors and 28 nurses successfully took part in a course intended to strengthen emergency services given in Al Sadr Teaching Hospital in Najaf;
- 273 new patients were fitted with prostheses and 1,148 new patients with orthoses at 10 ICRC-supported centres throughout Iraq.
Providing clean water and sanitation
Access to clean water remains difficult in much of Iraq. ICRC engineers continue to repair and upgrade water, electrical and sanitary facilities, especially in places where violence remains a concern and in rural areas, to improve the quality of services provided in communities and health-care facilities. In September and October, these activities included:
The ICRC delivered water by truck:
● in Zharawa district, Sadr City, Husseinia and Maamal to 6,384 internally displaced people;
● to the 385-bed Al Imam Ali General Hospital;
● to the 400-bed Al Kindy General Hospital in Baghdad, which was struggling to cope with summer water shortages.
Support for health-care facilities:
The ICRC completed work upgrading:
● Tarmiyah General Hospital, which serves between 250 and 300 outpatients daily, in Baghdad governorate;
● Tamour primary health-care centre, which serves 50 patients per day, in Kirkuk governorate.
Water supply in hospitals:
- The ICRC completed the installation of drinking-water purification units in Baquba General Hospital, Muqdadiya General Hospital, Baladrooz General Hospital and Al Zahraa Maternity Hospital, with an overall capacity of 600 beds, in Diyala governorate.
- Five main projects benefiting around 725,000 people were completed throughout the country.
ICRC delegates visit detainees in order to monitor the conditions in which they are being held and the treatment they receive. In all cases, the ICRC shares its findings and recommendations confidentially with the detaining authorities, with the aim of obtaining improvements where necessary.
In September and October, the ICRC visited detainees held by the correctional service of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Defence and various Kurdish Regional Government authorities in places of detention in Basra, Thi Qar/Nasiriya, Baghdad, Babil, Kirkuk, Erbil, Dohuk and Sulaimaniya governorates.
In some of these places, to help the detaining authority improve conditions of detention, the ICRC gave detainees mattresses, blankets and recreational items such as books and games.
The ICRC makes a special effort to restore and maintain ties between detainees and their families. In September and October, over 1,000 Red Cross messages were exchanged between detainees and their families in Iraq and abroad. The ICRC also responded to around 800 enquiries from families seeking information on detained relatives. In addition, it issued 249 certificates of detention to former detainees. The ICRC facilitated the voluntary repatriation of two released detainees, and issued two travel documents to refugees to enable them to resettle abroad.
Clarifying what happened to missing people
In its role as a neutral intermediary, the ICRC continues to chair the mechanisms set up to address the cases of people who went missing in connection with the 1990-1991 Gulf War. At the 67th session of the Technical Sub-Committee of the Tripartite Commission, held on 28 September in Kuwait, the members of the sub-committee reaffirmed their commitment to accounting for people who went missing in connection with the war. At the sub-committee’s next meeting, which will take place in Kuwait in November, preparations will be made for a joint field mission to the south of Iraq to check on suspected burial sites.
On 27 and 28 October, representatives of Iran and Iraq held a high-level meeting in Geneva under ICRC auspices with the aim of determining what happened to people missing in connection with the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. The meeting was the first of its kind following the signature in October 2008 of a memorandum of understanding between Iran, Iraq and the ICRC aimed at expediting the search for information on people previously registered as, or presumed to be, prisoners of war and on others who have gone missing, and at identifying mortal remains.
Relieving the suffering of the families of missing persons by clarifying what happened to their loved ones is one of the ICRC’s priorities. The ICRC continues to provide the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights and Baghdad’s Medical-Legal Institute with the technical support they require to exchange information and build up their capacity in the area of forensics.
Promoting international humanitarian law
Reminding parties to a conflict of their obligation to protect civilians is a fundamental part of the ICRC’s work. The organization also endeavours to promote international humanitarian law within civil society. In this framework, it organizes presentations for various audiences, which include military personnel, prison staff, students and professors.
In September and October, information sessions on international humanitarian law were organized for members of the Iraqi Army, the Peshmerga forces and Assayesh security forces. In October, a "train-the-trainers" course was organized for 14 members of the Iraqi Centre for Military Values and Professional Leadership Development. One member of the Iraqi armed forces attended an advanced course on international humanitarian law at the International Institute of Humanitarian Law in San Remo, Italy, and another attended a workshop on rules of engagement, also held in Italy.
Villages and rural areas have suffered a lot, the agriculture is collapsing or has collapsed in many places and many people have moved to the cities to try to find work. Mostly there is no work to be found and what work they find is badly paid day labourer work. So they live in a squalid squatter camps and try to survive.
For those who stay life is almost as tough. The rural areas have been neglected for a very long time and lack basic infrastructure and facilities the most desperate need is for clean drinkable water. Even for those villages on riverbanks or with wells or streams the water situation is desperate. The water is untreated and so it is often contaminated with fertiliser or faecal organisms. But an added hardship is that the women and the children have to go to the ponds and the stream to fetch the water and then carry it back. I recently visited my mother who lives in a small village in a quite difficult to travel to part of Diwnaiyah. She decided this year that she was too frail to make the journey to the city where I live with my husband and children for a holiday. So her holiday this year is that my sisters and I have travelled to her and fixed things in the house and in her field where she grows her food.
I had forgotten how very very hard work it is to fetch and carry water.
In this first photograph the women and children set off to fetch their water. If you look at the sky and their shadows you can see that they have left it quite late. I can tell you from experience that it is best to get this job as early as possible before the heat of the sun make the job even harder than it already is.
The third photograph does not really give you a clear idea of how heavy water is. Even a small pot like this is quite heavy.
If you use a small pot you have to carry many small pots to the stream and then go back many times this makes you very tired and takes a long time. Or you can use or one or two big ones to have enough water for the day but carrying a big pot is very very hard work!
I want to finish by saying a big "thank you!" to Erdla for fixing my English and getting the photos to look right.
في الساعات الأولى من صباح 18 يونيو، اقتحم مسلحون منزل فيصل حسن في غرب بغداد وقتلوه وزوجته وطفليهما الصغيرين. ولكن لم يكن الدافع وراء هذه الجريمة طائفياً أو سياسياً أو حتى اقتصادياً، بل كان مرتبطاً بالمياه.
فقد كان حسن البالغ من العمر أربعين عاماً موظفاً في دائرة الري المحلية في مدينة أبو غريب، الواقعة على بعد 32 كيلومتراً من بغداد والتي اشتهرت في الآونة الأخيرة بالفضائح المرتبطة بالسجن المقام على أرضها. وكان القسم الذي يعمل فيه حسن يشرف على توزيع الحكومة للمياه على الأراضي الزراعية داخل مدينة أبو غريب ومحيطها.
وحسب محقق الشرطة، محمد خضير، رفع مقتل حسن عدد العاملين في قسم الري الذين تعرضوا للقتل في هذه المدينة إلى ثلاثة خلال الأشهر الثلاثة الماضية. وعلق خضير على ذلك بقوله: "لم يكن لأي من هؤلاء علاقة بالسياسة أو الأنشطة المعادية للمتشددين ولكنهم كانوا بدل ذلك ضحايا لطبيعة عملهم التي أصبحت محفوفة بالمخاطر".
خطر المواجهات المحلية
وتتمتع القبائل والعشائر التقليدية في المناطق الريفية في العراق بسلطة كبيرة، إذ عادة ما تحصل من أعضائها على ولاء أقوى مما يقدمونه للحكومة الوطنية. وقد دخلت هذه العشائر في الماضي في اشتباكات حول الأراضي وموارد المياه ولكن مع غياب حكومة قوية منذ عام 2003 وانخفاض إمدادات المياه خلال السنوات الأخيرة، يرى بعض المحللين أن الخلافات المحلية المرتبطة بالمياه في ازدياد وأصبحت تنذر بخطر حدوث نزاعات مسلحة.
وعلق جعفر محمد علي، وهو محلل بكربلاء على ذلك بقوله: "لا نملك اليوم حكومة تعمل بشكل كامل لأنها منشغلة كلياً بالحالة الأمنية والخلافات السياسية، ولذلك لا تلعب دوراً قوياً في ردع أي خلاف محتمل واسع النطاق. كما نعاني أيضاً من نقص حاد في المياه على الصعيد الوطني ومن وضع اقتصادي سيء للغاية يجعل من الصعب جداً على المزارعين القيام بأعمال أخرى".
من جهته، أفاد علي اسماعيل الزبيدي، أحد شيوخ القبائل في محافظة الديوانية الواقعة على بعد حوالي 200 كلم إلى الجنوب من بغداد، أن قبيلته أجرت "مفاوضات صعبة" بشأن حصص المياه مع قبيلة أخرى مجاورة. وأضاف قائلاً: "نحن نعاني من مشاكل يومية فيما يخص المياه، فهم يستعملون مضخات مياه كهربائية ضخمة لشفط المياه ولا يتركون لنا سوى قطرات فقط. كما أن المسؤولين في الحكومة عاجزون عن تنظيم الري ووقف أولئك الذين ينتهكون اللوائح الخاصة به إما بسبب الفساد أو لأنهم يخشون على حياتهم. لذا يتعين علينا حل هذه المشكلة بأنفسنا". وأوضح أنه بحاجة لعقد المزيد من الاجتماعات مع شيوخ هذه القبيلة لحل النزاع حول المياه "ولكن هذا لا يعني أنه بإمكاننا الانتظار طويلاً، بل سنتصرف بسرعة لتأمين المياه التي نحتاجها لأرضنا حتى لو توجب علينا حمل السلاح".
أمة تفتقر للمياه
وكان العراق تاريخياً واحداً من الدول الأكثر خصوبة في المنطقة بفضل نهري دجلة والفرات اللذين يتدفقان باتجاه الجنوب الشرقي عبر البلاد بأسرها. وكان شريطاً أخضراً من الأراضي الخصبة يمتد عبر وسط البلاد تغذيه مياه النهرين. غير أن مستويات المياه في دجلة والفرات انخفضت بشكل مطرد في السنوات الأخيرة بسبب قلة هطول الأمطار وبناء السدود على الأنهار في تركيا وسوريا.
بالإضافة إلى ذلك، تعرض القطاع الزراعي في البلاد للشلل بسبب عقود من الحرب وانعدام الأمن وقلة الاستثمارات وقطع الأشجار من دون رادع لاستخدامها كحطب للوقود، مما زاد من ملوحة التربة وتسبب في تعرض بعض المناطق للتصحر. وقد تحولت مساحات كبيرة من الأراضي الزراعية التي كانت خصبة فيما قبل إلى صحراء شبه قاحلة أخذت تسبب عدداً متزايداً من العواصف الرملية في ظل ذبول النباتات المثبتة للتربة.
وقد قامت الحكومة، استجابة لذلك، بتبني تدابير لتنظيم كمية المياه المستخدمة للري في كل محافظة ولكنها واجهت صعوبات في تنفيذها. وقال مهدي القيسي، وكيل وزارة الزراعة، لشبكة الأنباء الإنسانية (إيرين) أن "المزارعين لم يلتزموا بلوائح توزيع المياه. ونحن ننصحهم باتباع هذه اللوائح هذا العام لأننا لا نستطيع ضمان كمية المياه التي ستتوفر لدينا".
BAGHDAD, 23 June 2010 (IRIN) – In the early hours of 18 June, gunmen broke into Faisal Hassan’s west Baghdad home killing him, his wife and their two young children. The motive was not sectarian, political or even economic – but water-related.
Forty-year-old Hasan was an employee of a local irrigation department in Abu Ghraib city – 32km west of Baghdad and famed in recent times for scandals surrounding its prison.
The department he worked for supervised government water distribution to farmland in and around Abu Ghraib. His death brings the number of irrigation department employees killed in this city to three in the past three months, Mohammed Khudhair, a police investigator, said.
“All these employees had nothing to do with politics or anti-militant activities, but instead were victims of the nature of their work, which has become a risky one,” he said.
Risk of local feuds
In Iraq’s rural areas, traditional tribes and clans hold much sway and often attract stronger loyalty from members than the national government. Clans have clashed in the past over land resources and water, but with the absence of a strong government since 2003 and the decline in water supplies in recent years, analysts say local water feuds are on the rise and risk becoming armed conflicts.
Government officials can’t control the regulation of irrigation and stop those who violate their regulations either because of corruption or because they fear for their lives. So we have to solve this issue ourselves.
“Today, we don’t have a fully functioning government as it is totally preoccupied by the security situation and political wrangling so we don’t have a strong role to deter any possible widespread conflict,” Karbala-based analyst Jaafar Moahmmed Ali said. “Besides, we have an acute shortage of water nationwide and a very bad economic situation that makes it very hard for farmers to do other work.”
Tribal sheikh Ali Ismael al-Zubaidi from Diwaniya Governorate, about 200km south of Baghdad, said he had been having “tough negotiations” over water allocations with another tribe that lives upstream from his.
“We have daily problems with water. They are siphoning water with huge electric water pumps and leave only drops for us,” al-Zubaidi said. “Government officials can’t control the regulation of irrigation and stop those who violate their regulations either because of corruption or because they fear for their lives. So we have to solve this issue ourselves.”
Al-Zubaidi said he needed to hold more meetings with the upstream tribe to resolve the water dispute “but that doesn’t mean that we can wait a long time. We will act swiftly to secure the water we need for our land even if we have to take up weapons.”
Historically, Iraq has been one of the more fertile nations in the region, thanks largely to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which flow southeasterly through the entire nation. There used to be a thick, green ribbon of fertile land snaking through the middle of the country, fed by the two rivers.
However, in recent years water levels in the Euphrates and Tigris have steadily fallen due to below-average rainfall and the construction of dams on the rivers in neighbouring Turkey and Syria.
In addition, the country’s agricultural sector has been paralysed by decades of war and insecurity, underinvestment and the unchecked felling of trees for firewood, which has increased soil salinity and caused desertification in some areas. Large tracts of once fertile agricultural land have been transformed into semi-arid desert and are causing an increasing number of sandstorms as soil-binding plants shrivel up.
In response, the government has adopted measures to regulate the amount of water being used for irrigation in each province but has faced difficulties implementing them.
“The farmers didn’t adhere to the water distribution regulations. We advise them to follow the regulations this year because we cannot guarantee the amount of water we’ll have,” Mahdi al-Qaisi, undersecretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, told IRIN.
Millions of people in Iraq cannot get clean water or water in sufficient quantity. The ICRC is doing its best to improve access to safe water. This is an update on ICRC activities carried out in Iraq in March and April.
The Tigris and the Euphrates, which supply the bulk of Iraq’s water, are slowly dwindling and in some areas can no longer be used as a reliable source of drinking water. Across the country, the shrinking of the rivers is having serious consequences on the functioning of water treatment plants. It also affects underground aquifers, where the salt content of the water is increasing. This water is often unfit for human consumption or even for agricultural use.
The volatile security situation in some areas and the rising price of fuel have put additional strain on already scarce services, as have population growth and displacement. In many places, the strain is further compounded by a lack of qualified engineers and staff able to maintain and repair water and sanitation facilities. Many farming communities were hard hit by the drought that struck northern Iraq in 2008. Average rainfall over the past 10 years has been far lower than in previous decades. In the north, water supply systems fed by springs and shallows aquifers have been depleted and often have less water available to meet demand. Although rainfall has been better in many places during 2009 and 2010, low water-levels continue to affect agriculture production, meaning Iraq needs to import more rice and wheat. With less water of sufficient quality generally available, management of the existing resources is key.
Because large suburban residential areas have sometimes developed without adequate infrastructure, and certain sewage treatment plants are bypassed, wastewater is discharged untreated into rivers and lakes. Ditches and ponds filled with foul-smelling polluted water blight many neighbourhoods. The United Nations recently estimated that around 83% of sewage is being let into rivers and waterways.
Water treatment and distribution facilities are also disrupted by persistent power shortages. Iraq is currently producing around 6,000 megawatts of electricity a day, while demand is estimated at 10,000 megawatts. Health, water and sewage facilities and other infrastructure in many parts of the country still rely on back-up generators to meet their need for electric power.
Water distribution systems that are old or badly maintained are further weakened by illegal connections and substandard plumbing within households. Leakages cause large amounts of wasted water and frequent contamination. According to the United Nations, nearly half of Iraqis in rural areas are without safe drinking water. The Iraqi government estimates that 24% of Iraqis in the country as a whole, or nearly one in four, do not have access to safe water.
"Reliable access to enough water of sufficient quality remains a major challenge for large parts of the population", said Julien Le Sourd, the ICRC’s water and habitat coordinator in Iraq. "The ICRC is doing its utmost to improve this by repairing and upgrading water supply and sewage systems. We do this in partnership with the authorities and we are also providing training for maintenance staff working in water treatment plants."
In March and April, ICRC water engineers:
- completed work at the Ashty water station, in Erbil governorate, which provides safe drinking water for around 10,000 people living in nearby villages;
- built an emergency unit in the 50-bed Qala’t Salih Hospital in Missan governorate;
- upgraded the storage capacity for drinking water and for water used in the cooling system in Medical City Hospital, Baghdad. The hospital can accommodate 1,400 patients and treats around 10,000 outpatients per day;
- renovated a primary health-care centre serving around 400 patients in Sadr City, Baghdad;
- connected the school of al Rahma camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Najaf City, which has 1,000 pupils and teachers, to the municipal water and electricity supply networks;
- supplied and installed a new mortuary refrigerator with a capacity of 12 corpses in Beiji General Hospital, in Salah Al Din governorate;
- delivered water by truck to 4,500 displaced people in Sadr City and to 340 in Husseinia and Ma’amil, Al Imam Ali General Hospital and Fatma al Zahra Hospital, all in Baghdad governorate, and to 360 in Qalawa Quarter camp in Sulaimaniya;
- installed equipment used to fill water bags for distribution during emergencies at Al Wathba water treatment plant in Baghdad;
- repaired the Hindiyah water treatment plant in Karbala, which supplies water to around 125,000 people;
- installed a large-capacity pump in al Fadhliya water treatment plant, Thi Qar governorate, providing drinking water for 82,000 people.
- assessed, in cooperation with Iraqi Correctional Services engineers, 11 detention facilities under the authority of the Ministry of Justice, evaluating needs and recommending improvements for the delivery of essential services (water, electricity, sewage).
Bringing aid to vulnerable people
The ICRC maintained its support for people facing special difficulty earning a living and supporting their families, such as women heading households, people with disabilities and displaced people:
- more than 2,300 displaced families headed by women in Diyala, Salah Al-Din and Ninawa governorates were given monthly food parcels and hygiene items;
- around 2,100 people displaced in March from Mosul to Hamdanya and Tilkaif were given food parcels and rice;
- 61 disabled people in Erbil, Dohuk and Ninawa governorates were given micro-economic aid enabling them to start small businesses and regain economic self-sufficiency. A total of 459 disabled people have now received such aid in a programme that started in 2008.
Assisting hospitals and physical rehabilitation centres
Iraqi health facilities still benefit from ICRC support. To help disabled people reintegrate into the community, the ICRC provides limb-fitting and physical rehabilitation services. In March and April:
- six hospitals and three primary health-care centres received medical supplies and equipment;
- 25 doctors and 28 nurses successfully took part in a training course on strengthening emergency services given at Al Sadr Teaching Hospital in Najaf and at Sulaimaniya Emergency Hospital;
- two people from the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research involved in the teaching of prosthetics and orthotics went to the National Centre for Prosthetics and Orthotics in the United Kingdom under ICRC sponsorship for advanced training.
ICRC delegates continued to visit detainees in order to monitor the conditions in which they are being held and the treatment they receive. In all cases, the ICRC shares its findings and recommendations in confidence with the detaining authorities. In March and April, the ICRC visited detainees held:
- in Counter-Terrorism Directorate and Tasfirat Najaf, in Najaf governorate;
- in Mina and Samawa prisons, Basra governorate;
- in Counter-Terrorism Directorate, Kirkuk governorate;
- in US custody, in Remembrance II, Baghdad governorate;
- in four prisons and one police station in Erbil, Dohuk and Sulaimaniya governorates.
Around 1,550 detainees held in Hilla I & II Correctional Facilities were given mattresses and recreational items such as ping-pong tables, soccer balls and volleyballs.
The ICRC makes a special effort to restore and maintain ties between detainees and their families. In March, it arranged for six Iraqi families to enter Kuwait and visit their relatives detained there since 1991. In addition, around 10,500 Red Cross messages were exchanged between detainees and their families in Iraq and abroad during the month of March.
During March and April, the ICRC responded to more than 3,600 enquiries from families seeking information on detained relatives. It also issued 220 certificates to former detainees making them eligible to receive social welfare benefits.
At the request of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the ICRC issued 73 travel documents for Palestinian refugees in Iraq to enable them to resettle abroad.
Clarifying what happened to missing people
The ICRC supports the authorities in their efforts to clarify what happened to those who went missing in connection with the Iran-Iraq War and the 1990-1991 Gulf War. It also helps train forensic professionals in the identification and management of mortal remains and regularly supplies equipment. In the past two months:
- the Technical Sub-Committee of the Tripartite Commission, handling cases of persons missing in connection with the 1990-1991 Gulf War, held its 64th session in Kuwait, which was chaired by the ICRC and attended by representatives from Iraq, Kuwait and the 1990-1991 Coalition (the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Saudi Arabia). Nine samples of human remains were handed over by the Iraqi to the Kuwaiti delegation for DNA analysis in an effort to determine if they belonged to missing Kuwaiti nationals. The sub-committee will hold a special meeting on forensics in Kuwait in May;
- mortal remains of Iraqi soldiers were repatriated from Kuwait under ICRC auspices.
Promoting international humanitarian law
In line with its mandate, the ICRC promotes compliance with international humanitarian law and reminds parties to a conflict of their obligation to protect civilians. In March and April, the ICRC organized a series of seminars and presentations on international humanitarian law for various audiences all over Iraq.
يخطط العراق لاستيراد 80 بالمائة من احتياجاته من القمح والأرز خلال عام 2010، وفقاً لغازي حسين، المتحدث باسم شركة الحبوب المملوكة للدولة والتابعة لوزارة التجارة.
وتظهر أرقام وزارة التجارة أن العراق استورد 3.55 مليون طن من القمح و1.17 مليون طن من الأرز في العام الماضي، وهو ما يشكل ارتفاعاً مقارنة بالكميات المستوردة من القمح والأرز في عام 2008 والتي بلغت 2.54 مليون طن و610,000 طن على التوالي.
وأوضح عون ذياب عبد الله، وهو مسؤول رفيع المستوى في وزارة الموارد المائية، أن ارتفاع الواردات ناتج عن انخفاض منسوب المياه في نهري الفرات ودجلة مما تسبب بدوره في انخفاض الإنتاج. وحذر عبد الله من أن العراق قد يواجه موسماً زراعياً صعباً نهاية هذا الصيف.
وجاء في قوله: "لا تزال كمية المياه التي نتلقاها من نهر الفرات عند الحدود مع سوريا منخفضة عند حوالي 250 متراً مكعباً في الثانية… أما بالنسبة لنهر دجلة، فقد شهدنا انخفاضاً بنسبة 50 بالمائة في معدل التدفق من 1,680 متراً مكعباً في الثانية [خلال وقبل أبريل 2003] إلى 836 متراً مكعباً في الثانية الواحدة". وأشار إلى أن تغذية الخزانات على نهر دجلة في مستوى معقول في الوقت الحاضر، غير أن الخزانات الثلاثة الكبرى التي تتغذى من الفرات، وهي خزان حديثة وسد الموصل وبحيرة الحبانية تعاني من نقص شديد في المياه.
وقد قررت الحكومة في عام 2009 تخفيض المساحة المزروعة بالأرز، والتي تعتمد كلها على المياه من نهر الفرات، بسبب نقص المياه وارتفاع مستويات ملوحة التربة. وعلق عبد الله على ذلك بقوله: "إن هذا الوضع يقلقنا، خصوصاً في موسم الصيف المقبل. كما يمكنه أن يؤثر [على الزراعة] في بداية فصل الشتاء المقبل عندما تحين الحاجة لأولى قطرات الري [في أكتوبر ونوفمبر]".
ضعف القطاع الزراعي
وتعد معظم الأراضي العراقية، حوالي 78 بالمائة، غير قابلة للاستخدام الزراعي. كما أن ما يقرب من 9.5 مليون هكتار من الأراضي الهامشية المتبقية تستخدم للرعي الموسمي للماعز والأغنام، وفقاً لتقرير صادر في شهر يونيو 2004 عن الكونغرس الأميركي. ولا يمثل الإنتاج الزراعي سوى حوالي 4 بالمائة من الناتج المحلي الإجمالي.
وقد تعرضت الزراعة للشلل بسبب عقود من الحرب وانعدام الأمن وقلة الاستثمارات وقطع الأشجار لجمع الحطب، مما تسبب في تفاقم الملوحة والتصحر. ووفقاً لوزارة الزراعة، تؤثر الملوحة على ما لا يقل عن 40 بالمائة من الأراضي الزراعية، لاسيما في وسط وجنوب العراق، في حين أثر التصحر على ما يتراوح بين 40 و50 بالمائة من الأراضي التي كانت منتجة في السبعينيات.
وقد قدر تقرير صادر عن منظمة الأغذية والزراعة (الفاو) أن "ثلث سكان العراق يقيمون في المناطق الريفية ويعتمدون على الزراعة لكسب الرزق. ومع ذلك، فإن هذا الجزء من السكان يعاني على نحو غير متناسب من الفقر وانعدام الأمن الغذائي. ويقيم 69 بالمائة من العراقيين الذين يعانون من الفقر المدقع وانعدام الأمن الغذائي في المناطق الريفية".
وأشارت المنظمة إلى أن مزارعي القمح العراقيين عانوا من انخفاض في الإنتاج بنسبة 55 بالمائة خلال عام 2008 بسبب الجفاف الشديد، وارتفاع الاعتماد على الواردات في عام 2008 إلى 74 بالمائة بالنسبة للقمح و69 بالمائة بالنسبة لجميع الحبوب.
وأفاد تقرير مشترك صادر عن منظمة الأغذية والزراعة ووحدة المعلومات والتحاليل المشتركة بين الوكالات (بدعم من مختلف المنظمات الرئيسية للأمم المتحدة ومكاتبها في العراق) تحت عنوان "تحليل أسعار المواد الغذائية في العراق" إلى أن أسعار المواد الغذائية في البلاد ارتفعت بشكل حاد مقارنة بالأسعار العالمية. ويعود ذلك إلى حد كبير إلى زيادة الأسعار المحلية للوقود والكهرباء بنسبة 800 بالمائة في الفترة 2004-2008.
ووفقاً لمهدي القيسي، وكيل وزارة الزراعة، أنتج العراق 117,000 طن من الأرز و1.281 طن من القمح في موسم 2008-2009. وهذه الأرقام تشمل الإنتاج المبلغ عنه من قبل المزارعين لوزارة التجارة، مما قد يجعلها منخفضة.
ومن المتوقع أن يصل إجمالي الاستهلاك من القمح في عام 2010 إلى 4.5 مليون طن والأرز إلى 1.227 طن، حسب غازي المتحدث باسم شركة الحبوب.