Militants using water to extort “favours” from displaced

Many internally displaced persons (IDPs) in camps in Iraq are facing shortages of water, especially clean drinking water, and the situation is being exploited by unscrupulous militants, local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) say.

[Read this story in Arabic]

Some displaced families have said militants have been delivering clean water to their camps by truck and demanding money, goods or “favours” in return.

“They [militants] sometimes ask for money knowing we don’t have any, and then start to search our tents to see if there is something useful, while armed men stay near the truck with their guns aimed at us,” said Omar Lattif, 45, an IDP at Rahman camp on the outskirts of Missan in southern Iraq.

“Sometimes they even ask for fun with ‘nice girls’,” he said, adding that two men in the community had been killed for confronting militants demanding sex for water.

Fatah Ahmed, a spokesman for the Iraq Aid Association (IAA), said they had informed the local authorities of such cases but had not received a response.

Warning

A joint report released on 30 July by UK-based charity Oxfam and the NGO Coordination Committee in Iraq said around eight million Iraqis were in urgent need of water and sanitation. The report said 70 percent of Iraqis do not have adequate water supplies - up from 50 percent in 2003.

More on Iraq's water problems
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 Years of war, current insecurity take toll on environment
 UN-sponsored conference tackles country’s water strategy
 River Tigris becoming a graveyard of bodies

Earlier this month, a report by the world's principal intergovernmental body on migration, the International Organization for Migration, warned that the scale of Iraqi displacement was "fast becoming a regional and ultimately international crisis".

Lack of water

“Most IDP camps are very far from cities and towns, making it harder for families to search for other sources of water,” Ahmed said. “They are sometimes driven to walking long distances in dangerous areas, and many have been reported killed.”

“The situation is critical and in some areas aid workers have been unable to offer assistance for over two months,” Fatah Ahmed said.

“We have been informed that in some displacement camps near Baqouba, Najaf and Missan, families have been taking water from nearby open sewage drains, using cloths to filter it, and then drinking it without boiling it,” he said.

Claire Hajaj, communications officer with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Iraq, told IRIN: "There's no doubt that many displaced and settled families are living without safe water - partly because of insecurity and partly because of lack of electricity or infrastructure to support water supply... Many families are resorting to illegally tapping pipes, digging wells or drinking river water."

Diseases

According to the IAA, at least 450,000 IDPs lack water and proper sewage systems, increasing the possibility of water-borne diseases and dehydration.


Photo: IRIN
A map of Iraq and its 17 provinces highlighting the three main areas of the country where displaced people have fled since February 2006. Source: UNHCR July 2007

South Peace Organisation (SPO), an NGO based in southern Iraq, said water-borne diseases and dehydration were becoming common among displaced children.

“At least 58 percent of displaced children in Iraq have one kind of ailment or another, mostly water-borne illnesses like diarrhoea,” said Mayada Obeid, a spokesperson for SPO. “Doctors have found the main reason has been the hot weather and dirty water delivered to them.”

"Displaced children are extremely vulnerable to unsafe water, particularly when they move to areas that have no existing supply. Diarrhoea rates are more likely to rise in areas where water supplies are stretched and many people are living without safe supplies," Hajaj of UNICEF said.

"Although local authorities and NGOs are making a significant effort to provide safe water to displaced families, the scale of the crisis is outstripping the response," she added.

''The lack of security near our camp has prevented NGOs from reaching our tents and the water, which is provided once a week, hardly lasts for three days, especially with the new families arriving on a daily basis. I cannot let my children die of dehydration.''

Case study

Displaced on the outskirts of Diyala Province, northeast of Baghdad, with an unemployed husband and no aid assistance, Um Barak, mother of four, said: “We have just a few litres of water a day for drinking, washing our dishes and clothes, and when we can, taking a bath.” She said the water was dirty but they had no choice but to drink it.

Water is ferried in by local NGOs, including the IAA, but both displaced families and aid workers concede that it is not enough to meet all the needs of the displaced.

“The lack of security near our camp has prevented NGOs from reaching our tents and the water, which is provided once a week, hardly lasts for three days, especially with the new families arriving on a daily basis. I cannot let my children die of dehydration,” Um Barak said as she cooked rice and beans in dirty water.

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