During Ramadan, the month in which observant Muslims take no food or water between sunrise and sunset, life in northern Iraq visibly slows down. Daytime temperatures hover in the mid to high 40Cs, so whether one is fasting or not, it’s wise to think carefully about venturing outdoors for extended periods.
“This is nothing,” an Iraqi colleague said when I remarked on the heat. “Later in summer, it’ll be 52C.”
I cannot imagine what 52C feels like. September, when temperatures start to drop, feels a very long way off.
There are hundreds of thousands of families for whom this searing heat represents a very real risk. More than three million people are displaced throughout Iraq. Many are living in tents, caravans, or unofficial shelters with inadequate services.
How will they cope? Will they have air conditioners? What about safe water, and adequate sanitation facilities? How will they protect themselves from the ever-present risk of fire and disease? Who will help them if they have extra challenges, such as illness or disability?
These are serious questions, because the scary fact is that UNICEF is running out of money to help the more than eight million Iraqis affected by this crisis.
Even taking into account Iraq’s troubled history, this humanitarian disaster is of unprecedented magnitude. And there’s no reason to suppose there’s an end in sight; last month, in one week alone, more than 20,000 people were displaced by conflict in Salah al-Din Governorate.
The United Nations estimates that by year’s end 10 million Iraqis will be affected—that’s nearly a third of the country.
Yet UNICEF is fast approaching the moment when it’ll be forced to cut back its programmes and stop some altogether. Halting critical work at the time when Iraqi children need us the most seems unthinkable. But without the necessary funds, we may have no choice.
Chris Niles is an Emergency Communications Consultant with UNICEF Iraq.