The World Health Organization (WHO) in Iraq is urging Iraqis to follow the instructions of the health authorities to contain the spread of COVID-19 after a rise in infections, stressing that the re-introduction of a complete lockdown in Iraq was a necessary measure in the fight against the virus.

WHO Representative in Iraq, Dr. Adham R. Ismail, reaffirms WHO’s continued support for and cooperation with the health authorities in Baghdad and in the Kurdistan Region to ensure the success of the measures to combat COVID-19.

Dr. Ismail calls upon Iraqis across the country to commit to the highest levels of preventive measures and adhere to the lockdown to help the health authorities contain the spread of the virus. He also calls upon the authorities to strictly apply the lockdown measures coupled with intense testing of suspected cases through contact tracing and active surveillance. “These measures can only achieve the desired results with the collaboration of all.”

As of 31 May 2020, Iraq reported 6,439 cases, reflecting an increase in the average daily reports which is due to intensive active surveillance activities conducted by the health authorities to detect COVID-19 cases and ensure the citizens are following the necessary preventive measures and social distancing.

(Source: UN)

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) has fought the pandemic with every tool at its disposal to save lives and support countries with limited COVID-19 response capacity, including Iraq.

WHO and Iraqi health authorities proactively coordinated a comprehensive response to the pandemic as early as January 2020. WHO Iraq scaled up the country’s readiness and response operations mechanism, as well as its pandemic preparedness plan of action.

“The Government of Iraq, with the full support of WHO, mobilized resources at an early stage of the pandemic to contain its transmission,” said Dr Adham R. Ismail, WHO Representative in Iraq. “National, regional and local authorities implemented strong measures to reduce the number of cases and suppress the rapid spread of the virus.”

Before Iraq’s first COVID-19 case was reported on 24 February 2020, WHO coordinated with several important actions taken by the Ministry of Health at both central and regional level. These early actions included enhancing coordination and planning among all stakeholders and partners at national and international levels, communicating with communities about the risks and how people could protect themselves, and ensuring capacity was in place to find, isolate, test, trace every contact, and treat every case.

On 9 March, a joint technical team from the WHO Regional Office and WHO headquarters arrived in Iraq to assess the capacity of the Iraqi Ministry of Health and health facilities on disease detection and case management. The team provided guidance to address gaps and improve the health measures taken by the government. Designated hospitals were prepared to respond to a potential spike in cases, and health workers were trained on infection prevention and case management.

WHO support to the national health authorities also included active surveillance, situation assessment and analysis, and awareness-raising sessions targeting first-line staff at border points and airports. 1800 Ministry of Health mobile teams carried out social mobilization campaigns and distributed WHO awareness material all over Iraq.

Rapid response teams were mobilized to carry out country-wide awareness raising, contact tracing, and testing activities, including disseminating infection prevention and control messages and guidelines.

Case management and continuity of essential services, in addition to logistics, procurement and supply management were among the priority actions.

The provision of laboratory services was also a focus. Direct cooperation between WHO and the COVID-19 Crisis Cell of Basra University succeeded in April 2020 in producing urgently-needed laboratory supplies to speed up the testing of suspected cases. This significant achievement was later replicated by other countries in the Region.

WHO lead a series of activities encouraging adherence to the lockdown and avoidance of mass gatherings that could lead to an increase in the numbers of cases. In March, the WHO Representative visited the religious Supreme Seminary in Najaf and recommended the postponement of religious gatherings. “WHO commends the stance of the Supreme Seminary in support of WHO and Ministry of Health recommendations and commends its positive response in encouraging the people of Iraq people to follow health preventive measures and recommendations,” said Dr Ismail.

(Source: WHO)

Perceptions of Police, Security and Governance in Iraq: IOM Study

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Yale Law School‘s Center for Global Legal Challenges (GLC) are releasing a new report that evaluates community perceptions of police and security in three communities across Iraq.

This new study – Perceptions of Police, Security and Governance in Iraq – presents evidence from an assessment of IOM Iraq’s ‘Community Policing’ Programme, implemented alongside the Government of Iraq Ministry of Interior.

The study is based on data from two waves of surveys conducted in three communities where the programme was implemented in 2019: Baradiyah (Basra Governorate), Hamdaniyah (Ninewa Governorate), and Jubeil (Anbar Governorate).

Community policing (CP) is a method of law enforcement defined by the United Nations as “a strategy for encouraging the public to act as partners with the police in preventing and managing crime as well as other aspects of security and order based on the needs of the community.”

Surveys were conducted in July and August 2019, before IOM Iraq implemented the CP programme in the three communities, and again in December 2019 after six months of programming.

“In Iraq, where waves of violence over the past four decades have eroded trust between communities and security actors, there has been very little publicly available research on efforts to re-establish this trust,” said IOM Iraq Chief of Mission Gerard Waite.

“This study is a step toward establishing an evidence base to evaluate community policing methods in Iraq, that will help tailor the programme for diverse contexts across the country.”

“In Iraq and around the world, public distrust of state institutions has driven unrest, instability, and support for violent non-state groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant,” said Oona Hathaway, Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Global Legal Challenges at Yale Law School.

“This study suggests that training police in the importance of human rights and equality under the law can strengthen both human security and national security.”

The study also included surveys in two comparison communities – Khor Zubair, Basra and Saqlawiyah, Anbar – that were selected for geographical proximity and demographic similarity to the communities where the Community Policing Programme was implemented. Conducting baseline and endline surveys in these communities provides some insight into whether other trends and events unrelated to the CP Programme might have contributed to the changes observed over the course of the study.

The key findings of the endline study are available in infographic form:

Evaluating Perceptions of Security and Police in Iraq, the baseline report analysing data from the first wave of door-to-door surveys conducted before implementation of the CP programme, was published in April 2020.

(Source: UN)

The UN Security Council decided unanimously to extend the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) until 31 May 2021, during a 29 May videoconference meeting*.

In adopting resolution 2522 (2020), the Council further decided that the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNAMI, at the request of the Government of Iraq, shall prioritize the provision of advice, support and assistance to the Government and people of Iraq on advancing inclusive, political dialogue and national and community-level reconciliation.

By the resolution’s terms, the Council also decided that the Special Representative and Head of Mission shall further advise, support and assist the Government with regard to several initiatives, including constitutional reviews, security sector reform and planning and executing free and fair Iraqi-led, Iraqi-owned elections, and shall promote, support, and facilitate, in coordination with authorities, the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and implementation of programmes to improve the country’s capacity to provide effective essential civil and social services, among other things.

The Council also recognized that the security of United Nations personnel is essential for UNAMI to carry out its work for the benefit of Iraq’s people and called upon the Government to continue to provide security and logistical support to the United Nations presence in the country.

The Council had previously decided on 21 May 2019 to extend UNAMI’s mandate for one year through resolution 2470 (2019).  (See Press Release SC/13819.)

(Source: UN)

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) welcomes a donation of US$522,500 from the Government of Switzerland to support the food needs of nearly 24,000 refugees and internally displaced people for one month.

The funds, coming through the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, will be used to provide cash assistance to 13,400 Iraqis displaced by the conflict and 10,400 Syrian refugees.

“During the ongoing pandemic, refugees and displaced persons remain among the most vulnerable in Iraq,” said the Ambassador of Switzerland to Iraq Lukas Gasser.

“Switzerland continues its long-term partnership with WFP, working together to support displaced Iraqis and Syrian refugee families, to get through this difficult time of heightened need – especially as many affected people remain unable to work.”

Due to increased needs caused by COVID-19, WFP has scaled up its assistance in Iraq reaching a total of 76,000 refugees and 280,000 IDPs.

“WFP expresses its continued gratitude for the steadfast support of the people and Government of Switzerland particularly during this difficult time,” said WFP Representative in Iraq Abdirahman Meygag.

“Many IDPs and refugee families had begun to achieve some self-sufficiency in securing their food needs before the pandemic. Now many have lost their jobs, among the worst affected are day labourers and seasonal workers.”

In ongoing efforts to mitigate COVID-19, WFP is pioneering cashless payments in camps, so that people can purchase food in a “contactless” manner. This both reduces the need for banknotes, and helps avoid the need for people to leave the camp and move around more than necessary.

Meanwhile, WFP and its partners continue awareness sessions on precautionary measures, and will begin emergency livelihoods projects as soon as it is safe, to help affected people to work again and secure their food needs.

(Source: UN)

WHO conducts remote psychological first aid training in Iraq to address COVID-19 stigma and discriminatory

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been experiencing varying degrees of fear, concern, anxiety and stress which requires psychological support to enable them to cope better with the challenges they are facing.

In Iraq, WHO identified groups in need of psychological care, with a special focus on women, and addressed their needs through a series of online training sessions on psychological first aid and how to address stigma and discrimination.

In April this year, remote psychological first aid training was provided to more than 100 participants from several organizations working in the field of mental health and psychosocial support. The training introduced the principles of providing psychological care using phones or social media outlets.

Participants were coached to deal with stigma and shame suffered by people who have contracted COVID-19. They shared observations of negative behaviours and attitudes seen as directly contributing to negative health outcomes and difficulties in accessing information on the disease in pandemic-affected locations.

One of the training participants commented: “My neighbour refused to allow his 68-year-old mother to go to the isolation facility because of stigma. It is hard for a man in Iraq to allow his mother, wife, daughter or his sister to be taken for quarantine or isolation outside the family home; community traditions and social norms don’t allow it.”

Other participants spoke about how people infected with COVID-19 experience severe stress due to isolation from the family, neighbours, relatives and community.

“Stigma in some areas is cultural or grounded in social beliefs around the shame of getting a communicable disease,” another participant from Mosul commented. “I think a lot of people don’t understand that we all are vulnerable to COVID-19; acquiring the disease can happen to anyone and we need to focus on raising awareness and educating ourselves on preventive measures, the top of which is social distancing and hand hygiene. There is no shame in going into quarantine or staying away from family and friends if you are sick.”

Participants were also made aware of the important role they play in convincing the populations they serve to report suspected COVID-19 cases and encouraging them to maintain a proper and healthy lifestyle, including adopting appropriate breathing, talking, eating and body hygiene protocols.

“People with COVID-19 have to a certain level been negatively associated with stigma and discrimination worldwide,” said Dr Adham R. Ismail, WHO Representative in Iraq. “WHO and the Ministry of Health and Environment jointly confirm that all people regardless of race, social status or ethnic background are vulnerable to the disease if protective measures are not properly followed.” “WHO and health authorities recognize the importance of addressing the health needs of those in need and continue providing specialized services to help them feel calm and able to maintain normal life activities in this difficult time,” concluded Dr Ismail.

(Source: UN)

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert briefed ambassadors on latest developments, including the appointment last week of new Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, and the majority of his 22-member cabinet, following months of political infighting and stalemate.

Although the pandemic has quieted months of corresponding protests, which saw Iraqis taking to the streets to call for an end to corruption, unemployment and poor public services, the UN envoy hoped that the new government will be guided by their demands and aspirations, for the good of the country.

“I remain convinced that a more just, prosperous and resilient Iraq can emerge from the current compounded crises. But for that to happen, political will is fundamental”, said Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert, who also heads the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

End climate of ‘destructive petty politics’

“Iraq must move away from endless crisis management towards a more productive approach, building resilience at both the state and society level. Short-term political and private calculations do not serve Iraq’s long-term interests, on the contrary. And yes, the challenges are many; but so are the opportunities.”

The UN envoy noted that the new Prime Minister’s priorities include tackling the pandemic, reforming the security sector, strengthening the economy, and fighting corruption, which she characterized as “perhaps the greatest source of dysfunction” in Iraq.

“These worthy aspirations must be turned into action urgently,” she said.

“And let me emphasize: Iraq does not have the luxury of time. Nor can it afford destructive petty politics”.

Economic woes worsen

Iraq has long battled political turmoil but also social, economic and security crises. COVID-19 has added to these challenges by bringing commercial activity to a standstill and putting the livelihoods of millions in peril.

Oil-dependent Iraq has also seen monthly revenues from this commodity drop from $6 billion to $1.4 billion between February and April. Additionally, the economy is projected to contract by nearly 10 per cent this year, with poverty rates rising to around 40 per cent.

As Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert pointed out, these developments are occurring at a time when it will become even harder for Iraq to access international funding. The need to broaden its revenue base could not be more apparent.

“Time and again, it has been made clear that Iraq should reduce its oil dependency; repair and upgrade critical infrastructure; temper its ballooning, inefficient public service; build viable and responsive state institutions; combat patronage and clientelism; fight corruption, and incentivize the domestic private sector while attracting foreign investment,” she stated.

Insecurity a constant threat

Meanwhile, Iraq continues to bear the impact of domestic, regional and international security developments.

Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert reported that although “inflammatory rhetoric” and a “pattern” of attacks and counter-attacks have tapered off in recent weeks, they remain a constant threat.

“And I can only emphasize: the way armed elements, armed entities, with differing ties to the State, choose to act in this moment will determine how Iraqis – and, indeed, many others — will perceive them,” she added.

“Once again, Iraq cannot afford to be used as a theatre for different power competitions and/or proxy conflicts”.

The UN official also warned against the resurgence of violent extremism, stating that the best way for the Government to counter ISIL and other groups is to provide for citizens by addressing the root causes of their grievances.

(Source: UN)

Belgium and Italy support WFP’s assistance to displaced families and refugees in Iraq

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) welcomes two generous contributions from the Governments of Belgium and Italy of €1 million each (US$1.1 million) to assist internally displaced people (IDPs) and Syrian refugees in Iraq.

“The vulnerable situation of IDPs and refugees in Iraq is now further exacerbated by COVID-19. Italy remains committed to supporting WFP in its work to reach affected communities, helping people meet their food needs. Particularly in the current context, where many people have lost day jobs or cannot work, food assistance remains vital,” said the Italian Ambassador to Iraq Bruno Pasquino.

Both contributions – committed pre-COVID-19 crisis – will enable WFP to distribute monthly cash-based transfers through electronic vouchers (“e-vouchers”) and “mobile money,” to 81,300 of the most vulnerable IDPs and Syrian refugees – who had to flee their homes and still live in camps. Cash assistance gives people the freedom to buy the food of their choice and at the same time sustains demand in local shops boosting the local economy, which is being badly affected by COVID-19.

Restrictions imposed to face COVID-19 in the country have pushed food prices higher while at the same time people’s incomes diminished as they are unable to work. WFP is seeking US$31.9 million to help meet the increased needs of families affected by COVID-19.

“By addressing the food needs and assisting communities in strengthening their coping mechanisms, WFP plays a significant role in a number of countries and as such, is a key partner of Belgian humanitarian aid,” said Ambassador of Belgium to Jordan and Iraq Filip Vanden Bulcke. “We are keen to support a comprehensive Food Security system in Iraq through our multiyear and flexible funding to WFP, to respond to people in need of humanitarian food assistance.”

“As people’s needs grow in the current context, WFP extends its gratitude to the Governments of Belgium and Italy for such strong and enduring partnerships,” said WFP Representative in Iraq Abdirahman Meygag. “These funds are helping us ensure that the most vulnerable IDPs and Syrian refugees have enough to eat and prevent them from spiraling into hunger and poverty during this very difficult time.”

Despite the retaking of areas that had been occupied by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), 1.4 million people continue to be displaced, hampered from returning to their homes due to severe damage, a lack of basic services and security issues. Due to violence in neighboring Syria, Iraq continues to host around 247,500 Syrian refugees.

(Source: UN)

Debris-recycling initiative seeks to bolster return of displaced in Iraq, amidst growing risks of COVID-19 outbreak

With support from the Government of Japan, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) is joining forces with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to launch an innovative debris-recycling project that will help displaced persons in Kirkuk Governorate, northern Iraq, return to their homes.

“With almost 10,000 destroyed houses in Kirkuk Governorate, our priority is to enable [displaced persons] to return and rebuild their demolished homes,” said Ali Humadi, Kirkuk’s Assistant Governor for Technical Affairs.

The plight of the approximately 1.4 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Iraq has taken on a new urgency, as they are widely recognized to be some of the most vulnerable communities to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“The impact of the epidemic is exacerbated by the conditions in which the displaced live,” said Dr. Jassim Hamadi, Deputy Health and Environment Minister. “Their cramped living circumstances, both in formal camps and densely populated informal settlements, and difficulty in accessing basic services – especially healthcare – makes them extremely vulnerable to the spread of the virus.”

Emphasizing that “the presence of huge volumes of debris on peoples’ properties is the main obstacle preventing the return of at least 80 per cent of cases”, Ali Humadi welcomed sustainable solutions to the debris problem and the redoubling of efforts to facilitate returns given the ongoing public health emergency.

Kirkuk authorities estimate that from 2014 to 2017, around 8-9 million tonnes of debris were created during the conflict with so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Around two-thirds of this debris consists of concrete, blocks and stones that can be recycled, while the rest is mudbricks. A major challenge in handling this debris stems from the potential presence of unexploded ordnance.

Meanwhile, life is slowly picking-up in some of Kirkuk’s 135 destroyed villages. “It’s a citizen-led effort,” said Ibrahim Khalaf, a prominent community member from Buwaiter, a village that was razed to the ground in June 2015.

Buwaiter is one of many villages along the front lines separating militants from the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in southern Kirkuk from Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the north. This large belt of land, that stretches over 65 kilometres and divides Kirkuk Governorate in half, was until recently a no man’s land emptied of its inhabitants as entire villages were levelled flat.

“People are trying to do what they can to rebuild their homes with their meager resources,” Khalaf said. He further asserted that “that just removing the debris from one house can cost around 2.5 million Iraqi dinars (USD 2,000).” This amount is well beyond the means of many families affected by the conflict, and around half of Buwaiter’s nearly 1,000 inhabitants are unable to return as a result.

IOM Iraq estimates that there are still around 60,000 IDPs in Kirkuk.

“The most important thing now is to clear all this debris, and if possible, help people reconstruct their homes,” Khalaf noted.

“We are at a loss for what to do with all this debris,” said Hassan Nassif, the head of Multaqa sub-district whose 35 villages, including Buwaiter, were wiped out during the conflict. He went on to decry “the chaotic dumping of debris in seasonal wadis and despoiling of agricultural land, which will surely create problems for the future”.

By practically demonstrating the potential for debris recycling through this pilot project, UNEP aims to apply a circular vision to the debris problem, transforming it into part of the solution in partnership with IOM. This includes not only facilitating safe returns, but also generating livelihood opportunities through Cash for Work activities, carrying out more cost-effective reconstruction by reusing crushed rubble, and better environmental management.

The project is being implemented in close collaboration with the Kirkuk authorities and the Ministry of Health and Environment, and benefits from valuable facilitation support from the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

“Crushing the rubble is a pragmatic and straightforward answer, offering a ray of hope in dealing with our massive challenges, including creating jobs for displaced youth,” Nassif added. “We stand ready to support this initiative and look forward to expanding this recycling approach in Multaqa and Kirkuk.”

H.E. Hashimoto Naofumi, Ambassador of Japan to Iraq, said: , “Japan has recently decided to provide a new assistance package for Iraq amounting to USD 41 million including this project as assistance for debris recycling in Kirkuk Governorate.
With this package, the total amount of Japan’s assistance to the people affected by the crisis reaches USD 540 million since 2014″.

He went on to say, “Japan is pleased to invest in addressing this overlooked debris problem and support a sustainable return process that integrates the humanitarian, reconstruction and environmental angles of the question.”

As part of this one-year project, which starts this month, UNEP also plans to work closely with Kirkuk Governorate’s recently created Debris Working Group and the Environment Ministry to strengthen their capacity to develop and apply optimal debris management plans.

(Source: UN)

By Omar al-Jaffal for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iraqi protesters demand UN protection from violence of authorities

Iraqi protesters are seeking greater international attention to both their cause and attacks by security forces and armed groups, even at one point displaying a large United Nations flag at the Turkish restaurant at Tahrir Square; the restaurant was seized Feb. 1 by supporters of populist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Protests started in early October in a bid to bring about political change in the country. On Jan. 28, the logo of the international organization was raised, a day after demonstrators circulated posters in Tahrir Square calling for the UN to intervene to protect them from excessive violence.

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