Even though UN Day has passed, we’ll continue to post stories about how the UN is making a difference in everyday lives. Take a look at what WHO is doing in Iraq to help with immunization programmes.
By Ruba Hikmat, WHO - Iraq
Iraq has come a long way and made major strides in expanding immunization for preventable diseases. The Iraqi Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) in Iraq and respective partners, are heading towards a strong and effective Expanded Programme for Immunization.
To safeguard children from preventable diseases, the Government introduced into the routine immunization programme two new vaccines: the HiB (pentavalent) and Rota vaccines. The vaccine, introduced in June 2011, is provided free of charge at all health centres, basic health units, and state run-hospitals as part of its national immunization programme.
Introducing these vaccines will help protect thousands of infants against some of the most dangerous childhood infections, including the major causes of diarrhea, pneumonia, and meningitis. This landmark decision came after more than three years of intense preparations to start a new chapter in the history of the Expanded Programme for Immunization programme in the country.
In 2007, WHO Iraq began to advocate for the vital impact of introducing these vaccines to reduce the mortality and morbidity rates in the country. As a result, a scientific study was conducted by the Communicable Disease Control and Central Public Health Lab following WHO’s guidelines. The objective of this study was to verify the importance of using this vaccine and the cost effectiveness behind integrating these costly medications into the national vaccination package.
During the past three years, the Ministry of Health, assisted by WHO Iraq, updated all vaccine schedules and trained over 7,570 Expanded Programme for Immunization health workers on vaccine stock management, storage and administration.
Iraq has also succeeded in combating the poliomyelitis disease and moving it from outbreak status in 1999 to a well-maintained polio-free status since 2000. The country also managed to make big strides in combating polio through the implementation of two high quality rounds of house-to-house national campaigns targeting all children under the age of five years with more than 90 per cent coverage with the oral polio vaccine.
Building on these achievements, the Ministry of Health, supported by WHO and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), organized the second national vaccination week. The week was marked with the full engagement of the Iraqi community through a variety of innovative advocacy, education and communication activities that stressed the importance of immunization to save children from needless suffering.
During the second national vaccination week, more than 1,600 vaccinators provided routine immunization services through primary health care centres, with programmes targeting unreached and unvaccinated children in low coverage areas, in addition to outreach programmes and mobile activities all over the country. New vaccination packages were introduced including treatment, vaccine schedules, registration and admission. In addition, 2,000 volunteers visited houses in 19 governorates to educate families on the vaccines and the importance of immunization in general.
Iraq, once dependent on UN agencies for the procurement of vaccines, cold chain equipment, hiring of vehicles and payment for incentives for national immunization days, acts most effectively today by securing funds for traditional vaccines, fully supporting immunizations days and investing as much as US $70 million for the procurement of new vaccines.
WHO Iraq and its partners are supporting all these efforts and are committed to helping Iraq achieve Millennium Development Goal 4, which aims to reduce child fatalities by two-thirds by 2015.
Even if UN Day has finished, we are still receiving stories from the field on how the UN is making a difference in everyday lives. Take a look at what UNHCR is doing in Iraq to help displaced children.
Firas still remembers when a bomb exploded just outside of his school in Baghdad some years ago. The 13 year-old boy still has nightmares - a consequence of the intense fear he experienced at the time of the explosion.
Now safe in Erbil, located in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, Firas attends classes in Amin Zaki, a school that the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) contributed to repair last year, like several other schools in the region. Most of the 1,500 children at the Arabic-speaking school originally fled their homes with their families in Baghdad, Mosul, Kirkuk and Diyala following the eruption of sectarian violence in 2006. They found refuge in the northern region. Most are from Arab and Kurdish origins and were raised in the Arabic language.
“Many of the children in the school have been deeply traumatized by violence in our country,” explains Nazifa, the manager of the Amin Zaki school. “Some saw their fathers killed in front of them. They are not fit to be in a normal school; they would need special schools with psycho-social counselling. But we don’t have those services here.”
Overcrowded rooms is another major issue faced by schools that provide classes for displaced children in the Kurdistan region. In Shlama, a nearby school mainly attended by some 1,400 displaced, primarily Christian children, the teachers complain that having 50 to 60 pupils per class is simply too much. It becomes nearly impossible for the children to learn properly. With such a high number of children per class, the school is not able to offer a full day of classes and had to put in place a two-shift schooling system due to a lack of teachers and space. UNHCR renovated Shlama school last year after a fire had damaged several rooms, as well as the roof.
The 52 teachers working in the school are all displaced from Baghdad. With an average monthly salary of US $450, they hardly manage to pay for their daily expenses. “My rent is US $400 in Erbil and I am happy that my husband found daily labour work, as it would otherwise not be possible to survive,” explains Ana, one of the teachers who fled Baghdad. Teachers like Ana voluntarily contribute part of their salaries to pay for transportation fees for children whose families have found cheap accommodation in places such as Khabat, located in the outskirts of Erbil.
Displaced families have limited resources and cannot afford to pay the US $50 monthly bus fee for their kids to go to an Arabic–speaking school located in central Erbil, as there are none in their neighbourhood. “It’s not always possible to pay for transportation fees for all the needy children. So some of them stay at home since their families just can’t afford to spend that amount for two or three children per family,” says Ana. Families also have to pay for school uniforms and school supplies. UNHCR is looking at ways to soon help those families to solve the issue of high transportation cost for their children to attend school.
In Gojar, located in the Sulaimanya Governorate, 122 children have started the school year by attending classes in tents. They were displaced with their families – a total of 845 persons- in July following shelling along the Iraq-Iran border and now reside in a tented camp managed by UNHCR located some kilometres away from their homes. “Despite the rough schooling conditions and dif¬ficult daily lives, it is still very cheerful to see all these displaced children picking up with their lives,” says Bushra Halepota, UNHCR’s Head of Office in Erbil.
The children should soon be able to attend classes in proper rooms in the nearby city of Qaladiza, as the authorities committed to organize daily transportation from Gojar.
UNHCR is closely working together with other humanitarian actors as well as with the authorities to address the education needs of displaced children in the Kurdistan region and else¬where in Iraq.
For more information, please contact Hélène Caux, Senior External Information Officer, UNHCR – Iraq: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo: Iraqi children in the Amin Zaki Arabic-speaking school in Erbil, one of the schools rehabilitated by UNHCR last year. Helene Caux/UNHCR
For UN Day (October 24), we are sharing stories of how the UN makes a difference around the world. Here’s a story our colleagues from the UN Environment Programme in Iraq shared with us:
By Diane Klaimi and Ryuichi Fukuhara, UNEP
The Iraqi marshlands constitute the largest wetland ecosystem in the Middle East, with unique historical, cultural, hydrological and socio-economic significance. Since the 1970s, the marshlands have been damaged significantly, due to upstream dam construction and drainage operations by the former Iraqi regime. By the time this regime collapsed in 2003, the area’s rich biodiversity and unique cultural heritage had been almost entirely destroyed.
UNEP’s commitment to the Iraqi marshlands dates back to 2001, when the agency alerted the international community of satellite data showing that 90 per cent of the marshlands had already been lost. In a needs assessment initiative for the reconstruction of Iraq, extensive ecological damage to the area was identified by UNEP and the United Nations/World Bank as one of the country’s major environmental and humanitarian disasters. Such ecological damage had led to the displacement of much of the local population.
The project, entitled “Support for Environmental Management of the Iraqi Marshland,” responded between 2004 and 2009 to the urgent priorities in this area in an environmentally sound manner. The project laid out the basis for sustainable management and restoration of the marshlands by facilitating the formulation of a strategy, monitoring marsh conditions, strengthening the capacity of Iraqi decision-makers. It also focused on providing basic services, such as water, sanitation, and wetland management options during the pilot phase.
The pilot activities were implemented in six villages, which included six modular reverse osmosis water treatment facilities, distribution networks and a photovoltaic power supply system to augment conventional power for a water treatment facility. The activities also included one constructed wetland Environmental Sound Technology for sanitation, one wetland rehabilitation facility, one pilot facility for natural wetland system and nine solar stills for household water provision. As a result, the project improved access to drinking water and sanitation and wastewater for the marsh communities. Approximately 25,000 persons gained access to safe drinking water and a community of 170 residents gained access to a sanitation system using constructed wetlands. The project also improved ecosystems and biodiversity in communities participating in the pilot activities.
In addition, at least 52,000 person-days of employment opportunities were generated for assessments, pilot applications, awareness raising, monitoring, training organization, and security provision. Close linkages between training activities and project implementation were crucial in building the capacity of Iraqi personnel and institutions to carry out the project activities on the ground. By training and working with personnel from institutions at the national, governorate and local levels, the project succeeded in enhancing the sustainability of institutional capacity and gainful employment of staff.
In 2009, UNEP and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) launched another initiative; a joint three and a half year project to establish and implement a sustainable management framework in the Iraqi marshlands. The initiative addresses the outstanding universal value of the marshes. In recognition of the rich biological diversity and the role of the wetland system in the regional ecosystem and culture of indigenous people, Iraq’s marshlands will be proposed for nomination to UNESCO as a world heritage site.
By Parvine Ghadami and Hiba Sha’ath, UNESCO-Iraq
Built in 836 AD to replace Baghdad as the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, the city of Samara is an important pilgrimage centre for the Shi’a community, hosting millions of pilgrims every year. It is located on the outskirts of Samara Archaeological City, designated by UNESCO in 2007 as a World Heritage Site in Danger. It is renowned for the Al Askari Shrine, containing the mausoleums of the tenth and eleventh Shia Imams, as well as the shrine of Muhammad al-Mahdi, the twelfth and final Imam of the Shia’s.
In 2006 and 2007, the Shrine was gravely damaged by successive bombings, resulting in the destruction of the building’s golden dome, minarets and nearly all of the retaining structure. This wanton act of destruction against such a visible symbol of the Shia community quickly sparked widespread violence across the country. In the days following the 2006 bombing, hundreds of people were killed and some 200 mosques were destroyed in sectarian fighting, 50 in Baghdad alone. National and religious authorities, as well as the international community, quickly condemned the acts and called for a “full commitment to rebuild all the damaged mosques.”
Following the bombing of the Shrine, the former Director-General of UNESCO, Mr. Koïchiro Matsuura, stated forcefully the Organization’s commitment to work with the Government of Iraq to protect and restore the historical, spiritual and cultural heritage of the Askari Shrine as a “cornerstone of the rebuilding of the country and a decisive step on the road towards national reconciliation.”
In 2006, the UNESCO-Iraq Office began implementing a project for the restoration of the Al-Askari Holy Shrine in Samara. With support from the European Union, which allocated US $5.4 million for the reconstruction of the site through the UN Development Group Iraq Trust Fund, and the Government of Iraq, which contributed an additional US $3 million, UNESCO took on the task to restore it. The project commenced once the city had been secured by national authorities. UNDP joined the effort as a partner, carrying out related works in Samara to lessen tension and help restore livelihoods.
The project began with urgent works to protect and clean the site, classifying and storing architectural elements. It also included training for Iraqi architects and engineers on using technical equipment, and on follow-up and monitoring of the restoration, with training provided by Istanbul’s International Centre for Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property.
Through these preventative works, the project provided short/medium-term employment to more than 600 local residents and strengthened national capacity to perform similar work on other damaged sites. Perhaps more importantly, the initiative became a visible symbol of reconciliation and cooperation between communities, demonstrating to the country that despite ongoing violence, there was a continued Iraqi-led effort to protect national identity and safeguard tolerance.
To leverage the work on the Shrine, UNESCO, in close collaboration with Samara authorities, organized a visit in February 2009 for nearly 500 intellectuals and religious leaders from Karbala, Najaf and Kazemyah, the most important Shia cities in Iraq, to Samara to start a dialogue of peace and collaboration with the predominantly Sunni residents of the city.
Currently an active site of worship hosting thousands of pilgrims each month, the Shrine has become a powerful symbol of social and economic renewal and the ongoing reconciliation process in the country, as much as its bombing was used as a powerful symbol of division. The message of tolerance implicit in its reconstruction is being transmitted daily to thousands, and the active cooperation between religious communities since the project’s outset has provided, even in the darkest days, a rallying point around which those who rejected violence and hatred could coalesce.
As Mahmood Khalef Ahmad, Samara’s Sunni mayor, stated, “National reconciliation started here when the people asked for help in rebuilding the Askari Shrine. What we have achieved here should be a clear example to other provinces in Iraq.”
By Mohammad Raafi, FAO - Iraq
Soaring food prices, coupled with years of conflict and economic sanctions, have had a devastating impact on the livelihoods of Iraq’s people. To help mitigate the effects accompanying the outbreak of the avian flu, along with the rising prices of poultry, FAO sought to introduce an alternative source of protein to Iraqi household diets by helping increase fish production.
The fishing sector is among the weakest in Iraq’s economy. The country has a small coastline of less than 60 km. The rivers Tigris and Euphrates as well as the country’s marshes, dams and reservoirs, make up Iraq’s main water source for inland fishing.
The per capita fish consumption in Iraq is the lowest in the region compared to 12 kg in the Gulf Cooperation Countries, 10 kg in Iran, 4.5 kg in Syria and 3.7 kg in Jordan. The per capita fish consumption in Iraq saw a decline from 2.5 kg in 1990 to 0.8 kg in 2005. This was not only due to a decrease in purchasing power, but also to a gap between current supply and demand USAID, Business Models for Aquaculture in Iraq, May 2006.
In Iraq, this industry relies mostly on inland fishing which faces several constraints such as the lack of quality fish seed reaching the areas where there is potential for inland fish production. Poor communication and transportation facilities further aggravate the problem.
Since 2004, FAO, in partnership with Iraq’s Ministry of Agriculture, has implemented a number of projects to restore and develop fish production in the country. Through the United Nations Development Group Iraq Trust Fund, FAO has contributed US $10 million towards the fisheries sector. These projects have sought to develop the current state of aquaculture by training and transferring the most recent technology in cage fish culture and by encouraging sustainable aquaculture activities using both local and foreign species.
The Organization has helped increase inland fish production through management, stocking and enhancement of the diversity of species with an effective regulatory framework. The project includes a range of interventions, such as the establishment of brood stock development centres and a brood fish supply network, the diversification of species in inland fish production and the establishment of a decentralized fish seed supply network.
The ultimate beneficiaries of this project are the inland fisheries and farming communities, particularly the rural poor and marginalized segments of society. It is estimated that to date more than 9,000 Iraqis benefited from the results of these projects. FAO, 2011 Project Summary, July 2011
With FAO installing cages for fish harvesting in twelve different locations in the Euphrates and Tigris, locally harvested fish prices have dropped by 40 per cent according to an evaluation conducted jointly by FAO and local universities. Basra University, Mosul University 2010 The growth period of fish also dropped from eight months to four.
These results have encouraged the private sector in Iraq to adopt the same technology as it has the potential to increase the pace of the rehabilitation of the fisheries sector. It equally enhanced the role of the Ministry of Agriculture to boost the private sector’s investments in this field, while leading to the establishment of 12 fishery associations.