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COVID-19: Changing ways in Iraq

26 June 2020, Impact of Our Work
I worry that the disease will easily spread due to the lack of sanitation and availability of water.

Huda

This month marks the five-year anniversary of one of the deadliest airstrikes in Iraqi history. In the early hours of 2 June 2015, a Dutch fighter plane flew across a clear night’s sky above the city of Hawija and dropped bombs on an ISIS-held munitions plant. 

The damage to the area was vast. Tragically, 70 people were killed, predominantly refugees taking shelter in buildings surrounding the depot. 

Today, communities in Hawija are still reeling from both ISIS’s cruel reign and the subsequent efforts to eradicate ISIS from the region. The vast destruction caused by the conflict has led to an ongoing lack of basic services, as well as limited education and employment opportunities, which has meant that families continue to struggle as they rebuild their lives.

In Iraq, Save the Children leads the Building Peaceful Futures project – a consortium of INGOs dedicated to helping families in conflict-affected cities of Hawija and Sinjar. Alongside Care International, Humanity and Inclusion (H.I), and the Norwegian Refugee Council, Save the Children is striving to support some of Iraq’s most vulnerable families after years of conflict.

While Iraq has not yet been inundated with COVID-19 caseloads (at time of writing there were 34,502 cases with 1,251 deaths) the movement restrictions imposed by governments and local authorities to stop the spread of the virus has hindered our ability to access families in Sinjar and Hawija. Further, the limitations of the few remaining health facilities in the areas, has left all members of the Building Peaceful Future project concerned that these communities will not be prepared if COVID-19 does spread at full force.

Huda is Save the Children‘s WASH Officer in Iraq. She leads the consortium’s Water and Sanitation programming in Hawija. She discusses why our ongoing work is so important and how the Building Peaceful Futures project has changed its approach to protect communities from the imminent threat of COVID-19. 

“Before ISIS, it was peaceful in Hawija. People could travel at night; children could play in the streets. There were still difficulties – conflict and violence were still a concern for us, but it didn’t monopolise our every thought the way it did when ISIS invaded. 

When I started working in Hawija, I compared the lives of my children to those Save the Children is helping. I saw that my children’s life was so much better. There was child recruitment happening in Hawija. There is no access to education in Hawija, which affects families as it leads to a lack of jobs, which means there is no income coming into households. 
 


Huda, a Save the Children‘s WASH Officer in Iraq
 


Children in Hawija have seen some terrible things under ISIS. They’ve seen their parents being killed; their houses being bombed - so many things that will stay with them for years to come. 

Save the Children, through the Building Peaceful Futures project, began supporting families in Hawija with cash distribution, to give the most vulnerable families money to buy essential items. Many families were left with nothing. They had lost their jobs and had their houses burned to the ground.  

We then developed WASH Community Committee. We invited a cross-section of community members to discuss what water needs and get input from community about their immediate water-related needs. We hold meetings every month, and we have started rehabilitating water networks and water facilities in schools. 

When movement in and around Hawija was restricted due to COVID-19, I wondered how we would be able to reach people. There is still so much to be done, and I worry that the disease will easily spread due to the lack of sanitation and availability of water.

Huda

Families are still in dire needs of latrines facilities. I really worry about them. Coordination is challenging, mainly because the curfew has meant that there are no government officials in their jobs. We can’t physically get to Hawija because of movement restrictions which is a big problem.

We met with other members of the Building Peaceful Futures consortium and discussed ways we could reach the area with curfew and restrictions in movement.

We know that the best way for families to protect themselves against COVID 19 is practicing good hygiene. We are constantly telling people “Wash your hands, wash your hands.” But if there is no water, these messages are useless. In some areas, there is a lack of portable water, the amount of water a family can access is very small, they might have to buy it, so we can’t conduct messaging as we want to, after the conflict, people don’t have money to pay for water, and they can’t just turn on their taps and have running water. 

Together we delivered health messages to people in Hawija through radio announcements that explained the risk of COVID-19 and what could be done to mitigate the risk. 
 


Save the Children staff distribute 600 hygiene kits to 600 families in Sinjar, Iraq.


So, we are now changing our approach, and preparing to distribute family hygiene kits to six villages. These kits contain household items, including disinfectant liquid, and we are making leaflets to distribute so that people properly understand the risks of COVID-19 and what they need to do to protect their families.  

We are fortunate that the outbreak of COVID-19 has not been as large in Iraq as it has in other countries. And with flexibility and forward thinking we will be able to protect the vulnerable children and families in Iraq from the threat this pandemic poses.

Building Peaceful Futures works because all members bring specific expertise to the table.  For example, I work closely with the Inclusion Officer from Humanity and Inclusion when developing plans to rehabilitate water facilities in schools and install latrines at a household level. We work together to conduct assessments and with our combined knowledge we know that WASH facilities are meeting standard so that they benefit everyone. 

I am overjoyed when I hear people talking about our work, and that they understand that Save the Children and the larger Building Peaceful Futures project is helping them. Through our WASH activities people have started accepting us, and we are well-regarded in local government departments, which means we are able to better-access the people in the community who need our help the most.”
 




The Building Peaceful Futures Consortium is supported by the Australian Government and implemented through the Australian Humanitarian Partnership.

Photos: Save the Children

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