Humanitarian crises around the world are struggling for money, but Iraq – where some 2.7 million people have been internally displaced in the last 17 months – is at the bottom of the pile, having received just eight percent of its 2015 funding needs.
Aid agencies say their already “bare-boned” response is facing further cutbacks: food parcels are shrinking, outreach programmes are being chopped, and planned water, sanitation and education projects are under threat.
“We are dramatically underfunded for even the most bare-boned life-sustaining approaches and we are facing a fiscal cliff in the next month,” Jeffrey Bates, head of communications for the United Nations children’s agency in Iraq, UNICEF, told IRIN.
“I’ve just returned from Sulaymaniyah governorate, where we’re facing the prospect of cutting salaries for people working at a preventative health centre, and where we are dealing with an inability to complete water and sanitation programmes because the funding simply isn’t there.”
Iraq’s funding crisis couldn’t come at a worse time as its displacement rate continues to soar.
According to the latest figures published by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 445,680 families – approximately 2.7 million people – have fled their homes since January 2014.
A report published on Wednesday by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) in Geneva estimates Iraq’s total IDP caseload (including historic cases dating back to previous waves of conflict) is closer to 3.4 million.
Last month alone, more than 100,000 people fled the city of Ramadi after the government announced a new military offensive against so-called Islamic State militants in the province of Anbar.
“We are in a terrible state. We basically only have enough food until June and we have already begun cutting food distributions,” said Jane Pearce, director of the World Food Programme (WFP) mission in Iraq.
As well as reducing food allocations by making parcel distribution bi-monthly instead of monthly, WFP has also had to draw down loans on all outstanding donor pledges as it has already exhausted all its credit, Pearce said.
“There are just no more loans available and I don’t know what I am going to do,” she said. “No new funding has come in, but meanwhile the needs are only getting bigger. That’s the issue. While our caseload just goes up and up, the money just goes down and down.”
One casualty of the funding shortfall, Bates explained, is UNICEF’s “community facilitator network”, a group of people working in hard-to-reach areas that are inaccessible for UN staff due to security risks.
“We simply don’t have the funds to keep all these people on the books any more, which means our ability to do remote programming in these areas has been dramatically reduced,” he said.
“We are already taking an understated approach in that we are only targeting the most vulnerable,” Bates said, before stressing his point: “Any further cuts are going to affect the most vulnerable populations.”
The initial crisis response in Iraq was well-funded, thanks to a one-off donation of $500 million from Saudi Arabia in 2014.
But in February this year, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned that money had but been spent and unless more was raised quickly, some two-thirds of emergency aid programmes would be cut.
In a bid to streamline funding, the UN published a “fast-track priorities” appeal. Despite its high-profile launch in Geneva, little to no new donations have come through.
According to OCHA’s Financial Tracking System, which maps humanitarian funding appeals and responses, of the $1.12 billion requested by the 2015 Strategic Response Plan, only $88.8 million has been received – just eight percent.
A new inter-agency Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for Iraq is currently being drawn up to set out funding for the rest of the year.
The funding target is yet to be revealed, but the report will be launched in Brussels in June, ahead of which UN agency heads will be travelling to various donor countries around the world to directly lobby for support.
“Even if the HRP is fully funded, we will still be in a position where we’ll have to cut back on what we believe are essential services, such as education, preventative health care, hygiene promotion and child protection,” UNICEF’s Bates warned.