Will the pandemic results bring another humanitarian crisis?

Oct 31, 2020 | Education, Medical assistance, Urgent cases

The situation in the world which we have been witnessing for several months is not conducive to humanitarian activities. Since March, many humanitarian organizations have been forced to stop their work in Iraq and Kurdistan.

It was caused by the ‘lockdown’ which we have personally experienced during our March trip to Iraq when we return flight was canceled and we had to search for an alternative. Less than 12 hours before the flight, we managed to book the last seats in the last plane bounded for Europe. If it hadn’t been for a quick decision and help received from our friends in Iraq, we would have had to wait nearly half a year to go back to Poland.

After our return, we were forced to cancel or postpone all our pre-planned fundraisers and meetings. Since we have no constant support from the media, it was difficult for us to gain funds for aid which we were trying to provide at all costs. But we succeeded. We managed to a lesser degree than we had originally planned, but we did that consistently and with no long breaks.

Since the beginning of the year, we have opened 21 workplaces, we have built an educational center for children in Sinjar, and together with Caritas we have provided powder milk for children living in wild encampments (the second round is currently ongoing). Now, we are building three more houses for families that have returned to destroyed towns in Sinjar. We also provided ad hoc help through food purchases and medical treatment financing at a time when Iraq was under the strictest pandemic measures.

We are focusing on development aid and support for specific families. In the situation that Iraq is currently in, such aid has been relegated to the background. Development not only of families but of entire towns and communities has been halted.

The humanitarian crisis may be unavoidable

Our best advantage which allows us to act continuously is cooperation with local organizations. We have emphasized this many times. We are constantly in touch with people who work on the ground. Because we treat them as our friends, we know how the situation in Iraq looks like and how to adapt aid to specific circumstances that change very dynamically. For many months, Iraq was under complete lockdown. Roads between provinces were closed. Many workplaces were forced to suspend their activities. But Iraq is a rather specific place which has its own rules. Restrictions in large cities are not always followed in smaller towns or in the countryside where people fight for survival every day. For them, closing shops or workplaces would mean no livelihood.

Hence, they need to take a risk which sometimes is very high. Similarly to Poland, Iraq has a population of nearly 40 million. Its territory is a bit larger (438 317 km2 as opposed to Poland’s 312 696 km2). But the population density is completely different. Nearly one-fourth of the entire Iraqi population lives in the four largest cities. This makes living in big urban centers completely different than in small towns and villages. The victims of terrorism whom we help live mainly in the latter. There are starkly visible differences as far as access to education and healthcare is concerned. Similarly to Poland, since March primary and high school children have been learning remotely. It is not a big problem in big cities, but in camps for internally displaced persons this solution simply doesn’t work.

Access to the Internet is paid. Not everyone can afford it. The issue of equipment is even worse because the cheapest laptop is beyond the means of the vast majority of families. I read some time ago that one organization distributes educational materials to allow parents to teach their children at home (or rather in a tent). But no one realized that very often parents themselves are illiterate. Years of wars and persecutions prevented thousands of people from finishing school. Now we have a problem with another generation for which gaining an education is very difficult. The problem is more complex than it seems.

Many children, especially those that were in captivity or had to leave their hometowns, were forced to stop their education. Centers such as OurBridge, which we have been supporting for three years, have been trying to fill these gaps and it seemed that they are on the right track. Often there was a need to start education from scratch, and there were situations when 10- or 11-year-old children had to learn the alphabet. Another school break is in their case a real tragedy.

Another issue is access to healthcare, which in Iraq is very limited, to put it mildly. In large cities, in urgent cases, it is possible to call the ambulance and receive medical help in a hospital. But it requires a fee because Iraqi healthcare operates on different rules than in Poland. The residents of camps and towns where there are no hospitals are in a much worse situation. The picture below shows a medical practice in one of the largest camps for internally displaced people in Khanke. This photograph was taken today. As you can see, despite a spike in coronavirus cases, the practice remains closed.

What if the world will forget?

Residents of such camps need to organize transport to a hospital on their own, and often it is located many kilometers away. It involves costs which for many is quite a burden. Ambulances do not reach provincial towns and villages. Several days ago we were asked to purchase oxygen therapy equipment. The cost of such equipment is 2000 zlotys (400 USD). In Khanke, several hundred people have breathing problems due to Covid19 infections. Hospitalization is out of their reach as they cannot afford it. Luckily, thanks to a private donor, the equipment will be delivered to those in need.

The prospect of the worst-case scenario when the world will turn away from terrorism victims is closer than ever before. For the last two years, we have seen a decrease in humanitarian aid delivered to ISIS victims. Organizations that have left may not come back again. The world preoccupied with its own problems is less willing to pay attention to others. But we will not stop working. Maybe we will not be capable to provide help to the extent we would wish to, but we will do everything in our power to keep going.

Auhtor: Dawid Czyż

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