Iraq: preparing for a predictable crisis

Corrie Sissons Conflict, Emergencies, Humanitarian, Innovation


The Iraqi army’s planned and ongoing counter-offensive against ISIS is likely to lead to the displacement of between 500,000 and 1.5 million people from the city of Mosul and surrounding areas. They will need urgent humanitarian assistance, including shelter, food, and water. Oxfam with the IRC has conducted a Pre-Crisis Market Analysis (PCMA) to inform preparations, here Corrie Sissons, Emergency Food Security and Vulnerable Livelihoods Coordinator, explains why this is a step forward for the humanitarian community.

For families fleeing ISIS-held areas of Iraq, the first hours are critical. They risk being trapped between front lines, blocked from accessing safe areas or held for long periods in government screening facilities. For civilians it can be highly traumatic. For Oxfam it’s a challenge to reach people in need and estimate population flows.

As we anticipate significant displacement as a result of efforts to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, Oxfam is preparing for mass upheaval. We are working to influence local level policies that enable access to safety for displaced Iraqis. Simultaneously we’re raising awareness about the importance of preparedness, through an innovative and effective market based approach.

Why markets matter

We know that when any crisis occurs markets are affected. Understanding markets is essential in order to meet humanitarian needs effectively and rapidly, whilst doing no harm. If essential goods and services are available locally we can provide cash or vouchers so that vulnerable populations can access them or design market support interventions such as giving grants to traders. Where markets are functioning after an emergency strikes this has proven to be the most cost effective way to both meet people’s needs and keep the local markets and infrastructure
running. If essential goods and services are available locally we can provide cash or vouchers

If we have a good grasp of how markets function in normal times we can also identify particular dysfunctions (such as groups which usually have difficulty accessing markets) and avoid exacerbating this problem through our programming (such as by giving them cash).

In anticipation of the Mosul counter-offensive, Oxfam in Iraq has conducted a Pre-Crisis Market Analysis (PCMA) to better understand the availability of food, water and other essentials in and the capacities of the different actors involved in areas where future Mosul IDPs may flee, and to encourage other humanitarian actors to do the same.

Conducting a Pre-Crisis Market Analysis

The PCMA approach and associated guidance allows humanitarian practitioners to conduct market assessments before emergencies happen in contexts that are prone to recurring crises, whether natural or man-made, or where a shock is anticipated. The idea has been around for some years, but this is the first time the approach has been applied in a pre-conflict situation.

In general patterns of displacement as a result of conflict are harder to predict than those from natural disasters. Conflict is by its nature unpredictable, but the protracted state of the crisis in Iraq and repeated declarations by the Iraqi government that the country’s second-largest city will be retaken from ISIS, means that the PCMA approach is particularly relevant. We know large scale displacement will occur, it’s just a matter of when.

The Iraq team has been working for the past few months, alongside the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to lead an inter-agency PCMA exercise to analyse how critical markets are currently behaving in areas around Mosul, and how they may be affected if the Iraqi army does indeed reclaim the city in the coming months. The PCMA training, data collection and analysis involved 12 different local and international NGOs in Northern Iraq and mapped the markets for Credit, Wheat Flour and Drinking Water.

Looking holistically at water systems

The results of the Iraq PCMA show communities already under strain from hosting IDPs, but nevertheless critical markets which have capacity to respond to a future shock exist. For example there is a possibility that when front lines recede, the two main water stations ontwo water stations will be a key factor in the capacity, or lack of capacity, of the water market system when the crisis occurs the Tigris River in Tilkaif and Khawaja Khalel districts will be found to
be operational and can easily be reconnected to supply the network. However, the stations may also require major repairs, or may even have been destroyed.

Now we know that these two water stations will be a key factor in the capacity, or lack of capacity, of the water market system when the crisis occurs, we can build the information into preparedness and response planning. We can therefore recommend emergency water access options (such as water trucking) as well as assessing damage to pumping stations and reconnecting them to the main network as soon as they become accessible. Having this holistic picture of the water systems beforehand could mean that affected communities could access water quickly, in a way which supports the existing
market for water and does no harm.

Reviewing the findings, planning and adapting to the crisis

Preparation for a Mosul counter-offensive is under way amongst the humanitarian community in Iraq and data collected and shared through this PCMA is already feeding into thinking around how agencies can meet critical needs and protect livelihoods, whilst supporting local markets. Should a counter-offensive occur in the coming weeks or months, the agencies who participated in this exercise are now equipped with the skills to map,
analyse and use markets for their intervention
. In fact, we’re starting to see agencies already putting this research into action in Makhmour and surrounding villages, where Iraqi security forces have regained territory from ISIS and pushed west in the direction of Mosul.

So, whilst we can’t predict the humanitarian implications of the full scale counter-offensive we can prepare ourselves and others to respond to affected populations more efficiently. We are already a step ahead, the next step is to adapt our findings to the changing context as the crisis develops to maximise our impact, ensuring that the most vulnerable are provided for.

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Photo: Beneficiary from EFSVL Project, Diyala Governorate, Iraq. Credit: Oriol Andres/Oxfam

Author: Corrie Sissons
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.