Since January this year, over 1.2 million people have been displaced in Iraq. Violent conflict, mainly between the Sunni militant group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and government forces, has created one of the world’s largest internally displaced populations. Sources predict that continued violence and fears of retaliation will lead to further displacement and escalating humanitarian needs.
Yet funding for the humanitarian situation in Iraq has been extremely low: there has been a UN Strategic Response Plan (SRP) for existing humanitarian needs in the country since February 2014, which – with the recent escalation in the conflict – was revised upwards in June from US$103.7 million to US$312.1 million. Prior to June it was only 11% funded but now, with the increased amount requested, only 9% of needs have been met at US$26.7 million. This makes it the third-worst-funded UN appeal in 2014, ahead of only the Nigeria and Gambia SRPs at 4% and 2% funded respectively. Funding for activities outside of the SRP increases the total available to humanitarian agencies in Iraq to US$53.4 million. This is still a long way short of the amount needed to respond to the urgent needs of a rapidly growing population of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
Figure 1: Contributions to the Iraq 2014 SRP from January to July 2014
Source: UN OCHA Financial Tracking Service (FTS)
However, new pledges and disbursements in recent weeks have dramatically changed the funding situation. Disbursements of around US$11.1 million of additional funding from Denmark, New Zealand, Italy, Norway, Austria, Luxembourg and the Republic of Korea – as well as pledges of a further US$17.4 million from the UK, Australia, Canada and Ireland – will make a considerable difference to the work of humanitarian agencies operating in Iraq. Dwarfing all others, however, is the announcement by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on 1 July 2014 that it will contribute US$500 million to UN agencies and partners in Iraq. No details are yet available on how the pledge will be allocated and whether or not it will be counted as a contribution towards the SRP. It is clear, however, that the funds are to be used for Iraqi IDPs, not for Syrian refugees in Iraq, which have so far attracted considerably more humanitarian funding (US$130.3 million since the beginning of this year) than the domestic crisis.
The new pledge from Saudi Arabia fits with a pattern of humanitarian funding from the Gulf states: Saudi Arabia, as well as the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait, continue to play a significant role as regional donors in response to the Syrian crisis. As far as the available data shows, Saudi Arabia’s humanitarian support tends to come in large, one-off contributions to its neighbours in the region. For example, in 2013 it gave US$24 million to Jordan and US$20 million to Lebanon for support to Syrian refugees; other Gulf states made comparable contributions.
The New York Times has reported the new Saudi allocation as “answering criticism with cash”. Whatever the motivation of donors, pledges are only the first step. In order to allow humanitarian actors to turn response plans into action, pledges need to be delivered on promptly and appropriately channelled. The next challenge will be to rapidly expand operations in an environment hampered by poor security and access constraints, and begin operating at scale to provide life-saving protection and humanitarian assistance to those in need.