Refugees at a camp in the Kurdistan region. Rudaw file photo
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - A day after heavy flooding around Erbil, internally displaced children on the outskirts of the Kurdistan region capital splashed excitedly in the pools left behind by the rains.
In the battered shelters of Baharka Camp, however, their parents looked at the standing water with gloom and worry. It’s no fun to sleep in, they explained.
“We haven’t had electricity for three days because of the rain,” said Ali Dawoud. “And we have no oil for heat.”
The 24-year-old fled his home in Mosul province last year when the Islamic State invaded. He and his wife have lived in the IDP camp for a year and a half. His wife gave birth to their son six months ago. As another winter approaches, the stress is weighing heavily on Dawoud.
He looked to the ground of his cramped living space, where muddy water has puddled in the ruts of his concrete floor, and he sighed.
“I don’t understand why we are living in such a situation,” he said. “All we need is to go back home.”
Many of the 4,000 people living in Baharka Camp are facing similar issues since the rains have started. And, unfortunately, harsher weather looms.
Besar Faris, a field activist coordinator at Baharka, said conditions at the camp deteriorate with the changing season.
“When it rains, it’s a terrible situation here,” Faris said. “There are issues with draining and electricity.”
Already in the winterization phase, Faris explained, aid organizations have begun the distribution of warm clothes and kerosene, as well as the weather-proof insulation of shelters. However, like many camps, since Baharka was winterized last year it is no longer a priority site for resources and services, which further strains the lack of supplies.
Aid is provided first to those whose basic needs are not being met, said Jeffrey Bates, communications chief for UNICEF Iraq.
“Always we face a severe shortage of funds, thus we can only target the most vulnerable, and even then we will not have enough supplies to reach all the children who need assistance,” Bates said.
Last year, UNICEF provided winter clothes and supplies to more than 200,000 children, Bates said, and the group hopes to reach 700,000 this year.
Even in its efforts to triple distribution, “(UNICEF’S) concerns are that this will not be enough, and that (there will be) illnesses associated with exposure,” Bates said.
NGO workers like Tom Robinson, who manages the RISE Foundation, see first-hand the toll harsh weather takes on refugees and IDPs. The struggle is nothing new, Robinson said, and neither is the lack of funding to ease the plight.
“NGOs are responding as best they can, but there has been a significant shortfall in funding,” he explained. “The humanitarian response plan is only 44 percent funded so far. The result is that there is less money to support critical needs.
“We are still seeing children without shoes in some of the more hard to reach and exposed areas,” Robinson added.
Baharka Camp Manager Ahmed Abdul said little maintenance has been done at the camp since it opened in July 2014. He said a wind storm a few weeks ago damaged more than 100 tents, telling of the many hardships winter will bring.
“The tents are getting old,” Abdul said. “We have no permanent solution.”
Abdul also noted how the region’s economic crisis is causing families in camps to go hungry. Until recently, he explained, families with more than six members received two parcels of food. Now, no matter the family size, each receives only one.
Despite its problems, Abdul said, “the general situation in Baharka Camp is good compared to other camps.”
Back in Baharka, Dawoud said he is sick of the tension caused by the supply shortage.
“Last year my family didn’t have enough,” he said. “This year we have nothing.”