Torrential rains and flooding mark only the beginning of Iraq’s rainy seasonThousands of families, already struggling to survive throughout Iraq’s displacement camps and host communities, were forced to flee as flood waters consumed their homes
Beginning on the early morning of Thursday, 22nd of November and continuing intermittently for nearly two days, torrential rainfall swept over large areas of Iraq resulting in deadly flooding and the displacement of tens of thousands of families. According to Iraq’s Ministry of Health, at least 21 people had been killed and more than 180 injured across the country.
In the north, the rains and subsequent floods devastated the Qayyarah Airstrip Camp in Ninewa Governorate – a community of nearly 37,000 people. Residents of this camp include thousands of men, women, and children who had fled the conflict against the so-called Islamic State (IS) from places such as Mosul. Many of these families cannot return home because conditions there remain dangerous due to the presence of explosive traps set by IS as they retreated or simply because of a lack of basic goods and services, such as hospitals, schools, water, and electricity.
“I was very afraid that I would lose one of my family or be hurt by this disaster. My only concern was to save my children and my wife ... Everything happened quickly and frighteningly,” according to Mustafa, a camp resident. Khalid, another resident added “When the flood happened, my family and I were in shock and we also did not know where to go because we did not know what areas were safe. We were in a difficult situation and I did not know what to do. The children were horrified and screaming.”
The Danish Refugee Council (DRC), which manages the overall operations in Qayyarah Airstrip Camp, along with other NGOs have been fully engaged since the beginning of the situation. Following a week of intensive recovery efforts, including clearing roads and drainage systems as well as the distribution of emergency supplies, many families have been able to return to their tents. However, many fear that this is only the start of what is expected to be a particularly cold and rainy season that will last until at least February.
The 6th of December will mark the two-year anniversary since the establishment of the Qayyarah Airstrip Camp, which was created largely in response to civilians fleeing the extremely destructive military operations against IS. Many of the supplies distributed in the first days of the camp’s establishment, including the tents that nearly all families still live in to this day, were only meant to last for six months. Now, nearly two years later, they remain torn and battered, exposing families to unnecessary risks.
Among other things, roads and other infrastructure remain in poor states, medical facilities are overburdened, and job opportunities are scarce. Children have been some of the most negatively impacted as they have been removed from formal education systems since they arrived in the camp and many for even longer when they lived under IS’ control prior to their arrival in Qayyarah Airstrip. According to government sources in Ninewa Governorate, the camp is planned to remain for at least five more years; and, to the families, the camp is their safest option for living.
“We need better infrastructure in the camp, including sewage and drainage systems. If we cannot access the sewage systems during the floods, then they could easily overflow and expose residents to diseases such as cholera. People are not leaving, and more may arrive soon if other camps in the north are closed. The camp will become a [permanent] settlement for many and we need to recognize that.” said Ayman Ali, DRC’s Camp Management Team Leader for Qayyarah Airstrip Camp.
DRC teams distributed 19,500 sandbags during initial phases of the response, supported distribution efforts of blankets and hygiene kits, and repaired potable water and sewage systems. DRC is helping the community to prepare for future floods by reinforcing cesspools and providing shovels to families while seeking additional resources to upgrade drainage systems and address other critical infrastructure needs. DRC is able to deliver this critical support thanks to the support of ECHO, IOM, OCHA, OFDA, and UNICEF.