Members of 1,500 displaced families in northern Iraq were more safely able to return to their homes this year as the result of a project funded partly by the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF).
Since last June, thousands of families have been returning home to Sinjar—a mostly Yazidi city not far from the Syrian border—from the autonomous Kurdish area of northern Iraq. The families had fled Sinjar in the wake of massacres and other atrocities during its occupation by ISIS in 2014.
The Yazidis, a religious minority living mostly in northern Iraq, were the victims of massacres, sexual assault and sexual slavery during the occupation. An estimated half-million were displaced, fleeing to Kurdistan.
Political instability and a lack of basic infrastructure and services—including security services—have made it difficult for them to return, says Prabin Manandhar, country representative with the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), PWRDF’s partner in the project.
Returning families also face an additional threat—the COVID-19 pandemic—and the situation is more critical because they don’t have access to clean water, soap and other materials necessary for hygiene. Much of the city is now in ruins, and many wells in the area were destroyed by ISIS. Women and girls are facing a number of “secondary effects” of the pandemic, Manandhar says, as a result of the closure of schools, loss of livelihood, family stress and the lack of safe spaces. “This has caused domestic and gender-based violence, increased early marriage, unwanted pregnancies and school dropouts. Life-saving care and psychosocial support have been disrupted while the health service providers are overburdened and preoccupied in handling COVID-19 cases,” he says.
In response, LWF launched a project to aid their return. Through ACT Alliance, a humanitarian coalition of which PWRDF and LWF are members, PWRDF contributed $30,000 to the project, which has a total budget of $80,000. The project began Oct. 25 and will have ended in late December, Manandhar says.
Under the project, 1,500 hygiene kits—containing soap, sanitary pads, hand sanitizer and other items—will have been distributed to families. The project also involved repairing wells and renovating water treatment facilities, including implementing tests to make sure water is safe, and the distribution of information on preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Naba Gurung, humanitarian response coordinator for PWRDF, says the agency chose to support this project partly because of the massive need.
“The protracted humanitarian crisis in Iraq remains one of the largest and most volatile in the world,” he says. “The COVID-19 outbreak hit a country already facing a humanitarian crisis, further deepening vulnerabilities and disrupting ongoing efforts to deliver aid to the most vulnerable people in acute need of humanitarian assistance.”
Another reason is the in-country experience of LWF, he says, which has been involved in relief and recovery efforts in Iraq since 2014.
Manandhar says the work is important, and hopes LWF is able to continue it in 2021 after the current project ends.