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In Iraq, with increased numbers of returnees to Sinjar, Action Against Hunger responds to growing needs for services and infrastructure rehabilitation.
Five years after the liberation of Sinjar, the country’s north-west region, the increasing number of returnees and local populations faces significant challenges in water, sanitation, and hygiene (WaSH) services. The outdated water infrastructure, further affected by the conflict, exacerbates the already dire living conditions. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM)1, Sinjar has the second-highest number of individuals living in shelters in the country’s critical condition.
Majid, a 34 year resident from Sinjar, recalls the times before the conflict when “Sinjar was observing a huge increase in all life sectors, and within several hours, everything has been lost.” In 2014, Majid’s family was among the thousands who left everything behind and fled Sinjar following ISIS’s atrocities.
The tragic train of events for Majid has begun during the atrocities perpetrated against the Yazidi community, which led to his sister, brother, and their families’ kidnapping. During all this time, he has not given up hope of finding his loved ones: “Two years after the abduction, my sister could reach out to me. As I was still in the military, I asked my supervisor for indefinite leave he didn’t accept. I resigned from the army and rushed to bring and rescue my sister and her children. This was a great moment of my life “.
Majid and his family came back to their native Sinjar after two long years spent in temporary settlements and camps in Dohuk governorate. The reunited family is trying to put the pieces of life back together again. Majid lost his stable job in the army and now works as a car mechanic, ensuring an income to cover his wife and five young children’s needs. “Something has happened to us that we will never forget. Psychologically, it is hard to be in peace. There is always something missing.“
Damaged, destroyed, or stolen property is one of the many obstacles on the path of returnees. Before the conflict, Halo and her family lived in harsh conditions in their native Alnisiria village in the Shingal district: “Our house was built of mud, and such houses need continuous maintenance. When we left, it stayed for many years without required maintenance, and finally, weather conditions destroyed it.”
Upon their return, Halo moved to temporary housing in Sinuni with her husband and three children, where they spent two years with the owner’s permission. However after his return, the family had to look for a new shelter. The family keeps living out of a suitcase, as they do not have sufficient income to afford their own housing. “We do not know when the house owner will come back, so we have to be always ready to move to another place. Other challenges like lack of electricity, drinking water, proper roads make life difficult here.“
Like Halo’s family, vulnerable households suffer the most from lack of adequate accommodation, functional infrastructure, and stable employment.
In 2019, Action Against Hunger’s assessments conducted in Sinjar town found that the water network was severely damaged and non-functional. Action Against Hunger teams have intervened to improve water access through the public network’s extension and rehabilitation. However, despite significant rehabilitation works, access to the network remains insufficient. Water infrastructure needs further optimization at the house level as numerous neighborhoods remain disconnected from the water network and municipal supplies.
Action Against Hunger teams designed a voucher-based program2 to cover the cost of plumbing repairs and maintenance, including installing a water storage tank, sink, water heater, water filter, or any required bathroom accessories. Besides, selected households receive vouchers for hygiene kits. Action Against Hunger experts in water and sanitation regularly conduct hygiene awareness sessions, with a strong focus on COVID-19 prevention, to ensure a comprehensive implementation of the program.
Majid’s and Halo’s families are among 500 vulnerable households who were identified by Action Against Hunger teams. Majid had built his house before the crisis but resumed repair works only this year, after his return. Thanks to the water and sanitation vouchers, he could equip his home with a washing basin, plumbing pipes, valves, and water boiler. Today, it makes a difference to his family’s daily life: “I bought some important items like water tank, which increased my ability to store more water so now we have a storage tank with great capacity. For the other items, if I have not bought them now, then I could have bought them after maybe one year or more.” As for Halo’s family, living under constant threat of relocation, it was necessary to buy equipment easy to remove and to reinstall: “We can be asked to leave this place at any time since this house also belongs to a displaced family. In this case, we can move items to the new place“. Despite the fear of a new displacement, the family will confront winter times with more confidence: “We will benefit from the latest items for a long time. With water storage tanks, we will store enough water and the water boiler tank will be beneficial in the winter. Instead of heating water for daily uses, it will be much easier now”. This WASH rehabilitation at household level project through a voucher system, combined with water network rehabilitation, aims to improve returnees’ public health status. Improved access to water also allows families to better cope with the COVID-19 situation.
The voucher system allows returnees to select much-needed items independently, while Action Against Hunger teams stand ready to assist and advise. Under the program, the identified households receive vouchers worth a total of $320. In this way, they can use vouchers in selected suppliers and shops situated nearby, exchanging them for a specific list of items. In the local shop of Ido in Shingal district, residents may find water and plumbing materials: “People mostly buy water tanks, water filters, and boilers. It is nice when I, as a shop owner, can help the community. For us, it is an economic benefit and an opportunity for families to buy items they need.” Haidar owns a shop selling hygiene items in the area. For him, the voucher program is an excellent opportunity to support the families and the local market.
Due to the national authorities’ commitment to close all refugee and IDP camps in Iraq by the end of the year, the number of new returnees to Sinjar will likely increase significantly in the coming weeks. The country is already affected by COVID-19 at an unprecedented scale, thus sporadic and massive returns to the places of origin can result in its rapid spread. In addition to water and sanitation repairs, Action Against Hunger’s program provides families with hygiene kit vouchers to purchase sanitizers and cleaning materials. Our teams are determined to help returnees by providing safe water, sanitation facilities and improving their hygiene conditions, which are essential for preventing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
1OIM 09/2020 : http://iraqdtm.iom.int/images/MasterList/20201081929951_DTM_117_Report_July_August_2020.pdf
2“Enhancing recovery and resilience of crisis-affected populations, through integrated multi-sectoral programming in Iraq” is financed by USAID/BHA
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