Bracing for Winter in Iraq

As temperatures fall in northern Iraq and winter rains continue, USAID is helping to ensure that families in need are able to survive.

In December, 1,500 families in Kirkuk Governorate received USAID-funded winter supplies. With limited economic opportunities and massive damage to homes and buildings in the area, families here are extremely vulnerable to the harsh winter weather. Photo credit: IOM

If asked to think about Iraq, many would likely conjure up images of an arid desert and sweltering heat. While this is true of Iraqi summers, the winters can be vastly different.

Although Iraq is mostly desert, the country’s mountainous regions in the north are known to have bitterly cold winters with temperatures that drop below freezing at night. Winter rains are common in Iraq, and this year has been especially bad, with severe storms causing flash flooding throughout the northern provinces, particularly in Ninewa and Kirkuk Governorates.

Cities in the mountainous regions of northern Iraq, including Sinjar, Mosul, Dahuk, Erbil, Kirkuk, Sulaymaniyah, are know to have bitterly cold winters. USAID is working with its partners to provide winter supplies to help vulnerable families in these areas. Map credit: USAID/OFDA

To make matters worse, the Iraqis in this area are also still reeling from a different kind of storm: ISIS. Insecurity and violence forced millions to flee their homes with just the few things they could carry. Today, nearly two million people remain displaced throughout the country, living in tents, make-shift shelters, and damaged buildings. The cold weather makes these stark living conditions even harder to bear.

Because of the recent flash flooding in northern Iraq, the living conditions in many camps have deteriorated. Photo credit: IOM

That is why USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance is working with five partners — non-governmental organizations (NGOs)and UN agencies — to provide essential winter items like blankets, kerosene heaters, and warm clothes to families in Iraq. The UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) is one of those partners.

Winter supplies provided by USAID typically contain items like: warm clothing, blankets, kerosene heaters, and jerry cans (that can be used for fuel for the kerosene heaters). Each kit of supplies is designed for a family of six.

“As the temperature in Iraq regularly drops below freezing in the winter months, displaced and returnee households living in tents, temporary shelters or severely damaged homes are at increased risk of various health concerns, including hypothermia,” said Gerard Waite, IOM Iraq Chief of Mission.

In total, by the end of this winter, nearly 125,000 Iraqis across the country will receive winter supplies thanks to the joint efforts of USAID and IOM - UN Migration.

In October, U.S. Consul General Steven Fagin and USAID staff visited IOM’s Erbil-based warehouse, which houses approximately 25,000 winter supply kits. Photo credit: IOM

Carrying out a successful aid distribution takes months of planning and coordinating. Ensuring the proper amount of aid — that is also appropriate for the affected families—is a complicated combination of supply chain management, transportation and logistics, and program design and implementation.

In October, members of USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team and U.S. Consul General Steven Fagin visited IOM’s warehouse in Erbil. In addition to the USAID-funded winterization kits, this warehouse also stocks other relief supplies like mattresses, kitchen sets, and basic hygiene items. Photo credit: IOM

To ensure that aid is going to those most in need, USAID’s partners work with local organizations and government groups to identify vulnerable communities in Iraq. From there, they conduct assessments to identify specific families within those communities — taking into account personal, social, and economic factors — such as health, age, disabilities, size of household, employment, and level of poverty. The objective is to try and make sure that aid gets to people who need it most.

USAID program coordinator Karey Haywood, center, observes the winter supply distribution in Chamchamal. Photo credit: IOM

Karey Haywood, a member of USAID’s elite Disaster Assistance Response Team, observed a recent distribution that took place over three days at a community center in Chamchamal, an urban city center in Sulaymaniyah Governorate, located in northeast Iraq. More than half of the displaced families in this district fled their homes nearly four years ago.

As she watched families with small children and older couples line up one-by-one, she was impressed with how smooth the operation ran.

“People came in, got their IDs checked, and were then called up to get their supplies,” Haywood explained. “It was very well organized and low key. An outsider wouldn’t even know it was going on, which is frankly how a distribution like this should be handled.”

Top photos: Before families can pick up their winter supplies, IOM staff must first check IDs to verify that they are among those identified to receive aid, based on need. Bottom photo: Ban was one of the 2,500 people too receive winter supplies from the USAID-funded distribution in Chamchamal. Photo credit: IOM

Ban was among the people who received aid that day.

Ban and her family fled their home in Al-Doz nine months ago and are now living with her in-laws and nine other people. Up to this point, they had to rely on their neighbors for basic supplies like blankets.

“I have a child and we try our best to provide him with what he needs,” she said. “We came to Chamchamal with nothing… no blankets, no mattresses… We could not buy a mattress this winter because my husband’s salary is barely enough to pay the rent and cover other costs.”

In late December, IOM teams in Kirkuk distributed 1,500 winter supply kits to newly returned families in Hawija, Al Zab, and Al Abbasi villages in Kirkuk Governorate. Photo credit: IOM

Similarly, Nora, a mother of 4, received winter supplies at a distribution in neighboring Kirkuk Governorate, where she lives with her family in their damaged home.

Among the items she received at the distribution was a kerosene heater. Previously, her family had to rely on firewood as their only source of heat for the winter.

“After being displaced for a year and a half in Kirkuk, we returned to our village, which was destroyed by ISIS,” she said. “Everything was damaged, including our house and shop, which was our only source of income. We had to start our life from scratch.”

Nora proudly displaces the blankets, kerosene heater, and jerry can that her family will use to stay warm this winter. Photo credit: IOM

Although this winter will end and the cold weather give way to spring, millions of people will remain displaced, unable to go home and resume their normal lives. USAID has helped vulnerable Iraqi families since 2014 and will continue to support them as long as humanitarian needs persist.

As the largest donor of humanitarian assistance to the Iraq crisis, the United States has provided nearly $2.5 billion in humanitarian aid since 2014.

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