Children at Galawezh's house pose for the camera in their home where DRC is conducting shelter upgrades in Kirkuk, Iraq. Photo by: Delawit Mesfin/DRC

Shelter upgrades help families beat the heat in northern Iraq

With support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) is helping conflict-affected Iraqis with shelter upgrades to make their homes safer and more secure.


Galawezh, a shy twenty-six-year-old mother of four, warmly welcomed us into her humble home in Kirkuk city on a blistering hot day in July. Nine months ago, she, along with her husband and children were displaced from their district, Hawiga, which has been under the control of the so-called Islamic State (IS) since 2014. After reaching safety in Kirkuk, she and her family found a modest, albeit unfinished house they could afford to rent in the city.

Galawezh’s home actually houses two internally displaced families, and while they share living costs, she says the rent is still too high as her husband is the only one working to support them. Living in an unfinished house has also proved challenging as inadequate structures in the home have made life difficult.

“There was just one light and some shabby plumbing, the toilets were unfinished and there was no kitchen,” Galawezh said, describing the state the house was in when they arrived.

With the support of USAID, DRC has installed new water tanks as well as separate shower and toilet facilities in the home. Other upgrades, such as the installation of new doors and windows, were also done in an effort to keep the families safe at home.

“The work to fix the house is still ongoing, but we can already see a huge difference,” Galawezh said. According to her, one notable change that is already helping the family cope is the newly installed ceiling fan in the main room of the house. Summer temperatures in Kirkuk, located in northern Iraq, often soar well above 40 degrees Celsius (104F). “It’s so hot here and we don’t have a lot of electricity, but it’s really helped lower the temperature inside the house,” she added.

As the renovation work continues, Galawezh said her family will continue hoping for a better future and that she looks forward to living in a safer home.

"It feels like we’re in an oven”

Across town, standing in a dusty construction site on an aggressively hot day, Hamad looked on as workers poured concrete and installed a new outdoor toilet. The twenty-five year old and his family of 14 had been living at this site of an unfinished building for nearly a year.

Back in 2014, Hamad and his family were displaced from their home in Hawiga district shortly after IS took over the area. They moved north towards Kirkuk city, which hosts some 360,000 displaced people. Of the more than three million Iraqis displaced by the ensuing conflict, many have sought safety and shelter in unfinished structures across the country, much like the one Hamad lives in.


Hamad, 25, says Shelter upgrades to the house where he lives will keep his family safe and cool in the soaring summer heat in Kirkuk, Iraq. Photo by: Delawit Mesfin

“This place was in very bad shape when we arrived, but imagine, there were a few families living here before us,” he said. Taking advantage of some basic experience working in construction, Hamad tried his best to renovate as much of the home as he could. “I built that toilet there,” he said, pointing to an outdoor latrine in a corner of the lot.

Despite his efforts, there were other issues with the site that posed serious risks to the family’s health and safety. “Actually, there was no glass on the windows in the house, they were just covered with plastic, and the roof leaked,” Hamad said.

Newly installed windows will keep the family safe, and work has nearly started on a new roof that will keep them dry and cool. The corrugated tin roof over the home often turns the inside of the house into a furnace.

“I’m really happy the roof will be changed,” Hamad said. “The heat from the sun makes it so hot inside, it feels like we’re in an oven!”