In September this year, funding for the humanitarian response in Iraq was looking good. The Strategic Response Plan (SRP) for Iraq in 2014 was 198% funded, with total contributions of US$618 million against a revised funding request of US$312 million. Mainly due to a one-off contribution of US$500 million from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in July 2014, this put Iraq way out ahead in first place of all the UN-coordinated appeals in terms of requirements met at that point in time.
The picture looks very different now. The Iraq SRP was revised again in October 2014 to reflect a sharp rise in humanitarian needs. Around 5.2 million people are now thought to be in urgent need of assistance due to new waves of violence and insecurity. This compares to an estimated 1.5 million people according to the June 2014 SRP.
According to the latest revised SRP and data from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), violent conflict has displaced around 2 million people and the numbers are still rising. All of Iraq’s 18 governorates are now hosting displaced families, putting pressure on host families, essential public services, food security and livelihoods. Food shortages are affecting around 2.8 million people. Iraqi civilians are being deliberately and routinely targeted with violence and human rights abuses by all parties to the conflict. Humanitarian access is extremely difficult, with an estimated 3.6 million people living in areas under the control of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and affiliated armed groups, and therefore barely receiving the most basic humanitarian assistance or protection. All in all, there is a rapid deterioration of an already dire situation, with more suffering to come as the fighting continues and winter sets in.
Suddenly the funding situation looks far from positive. In order to respond to spiralling humanitarian needs, the Iraq SRP requirements increased last month from US$312 million to US$2.2 billion: US$1.2 billion for needs in 2014 and a further US$1.0 billion for 2015. With funding for the appeal at US$648 million as of 26 November 2014, only 29% of the current combined requirements for 2014 and 2015 have so far been met.
Figure 1: SRP Iraq 2014: Requirements and funding
Source: UN OCHA FTS, data downloaded 26 November 2014; IOM Iraq Displacement Tracking Matrix, data as of 9 November 2014. Note: The current funding request of US$1.2 billion is for 2014 only. Funding requirements for the SRP in 2014 and 2015 amount to US$2.2 billion in total. Some funding given in 2014 also covers activities running into 2015.
What went wrong? After a sharp increase in funding for the appeal in July, contributions have slowed down to a trickle between August and November. Perhaps the scale and urgency of humanitarian needs elsewhere in 2014 have overshadowed events in Iraq. Iraq is one of four current level 3 emergencies (the UN’s classification for the most severe and large-scale crises), not including the Ebola crisis (the appeal for which requests US$1.5 billion of urgent funding from donors). It is possible that the US$500 million Saudi contribution to the Iraq appeal in July led to complacency amongst the donor community – a false sense of security that the needs of the Iraqi population were already covered. Access problems, and concerns about the capacity of humanitarian organisations to absorb funding and actually deliver humanitarian assistance to the worst affected communities, may also be inhibiting a more generous donor response.
Whatever the reasons, a serious re-focus on Iraq is urgently needed. With only a few weeks left to go in 2014, it looks extremely unlikely that the requested US$1.2 billion for this year will materialise. If the current funding trend continues, then reaching a target of US$2.2 billion for Iraq by the end of 2015 looks impossible. This means that donors responding to other major crises will have to make difficult decisions about where to allocate resources, and that other donors will have to step up.
Prioritising between crises is a difficult and thankless task – how can you compare for example the needs of people in Iraq with those affected by the crisis in South Sudan, or needs arising from the Ebola crisis with humanitarian response priorities in Somalia? But prioritising needs within a crisis is sometimes possible. The UN and the Kurdistan Regional Government have attempted to do this by compiling an Immediate Response Plan for IDPs in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. As a subset of the SRP revised in October, it outlines the response priorities for the region over a two month period – 15 September to 15 November 2014 – to prepare for the coming winter season. Unfortunately, there has not been enough reporting of project level allocations to allow for a good understanding of how successful this prioritisation has been in terms of directing donor funding within the appeal. It does, however, represent a good effort on the part of those planning and coordinating the response to highlight where scarce resources might be best spent in the midst of an overwhelming and still deteriorating emergency.
 The other three current L3 emergencies are South Sudan, Syria and the Central African Republic.