Anbar was the first province in Iraq to lose a city to the insurgency starting over two years of displacement. Now that the governorate is being liberated thousands are returning to their homes, but to dire conditions. There are very few aid agencies working in Anbar, and they along with the provincial and central government lack the funds to adequately provide for the displaced. There is widespread destruction in the freed cities, no working economies and only the barest of basic services, but despite these dilemmas more and more people are making the trip back to their regions.
Tens of thousands of displaced have gone back to their homes in Anbar after the recent victories over the Islamic State. According to the Mayor of Ramadi for example, almost 42,000 of the 63,000 families that were originally in the city have returned, and thousands more are joining them. Another factor is that mortars have hit the displacement Camp Salam in southern Baghdad three times in three months leading to a min-exodus from there back to Anbar. The rush to go back to Ramadi began with the Sunni Endowment making the call shortly after the city was freed, despite it not being safe due to hundreds of IEDs left behind by the insurgents. Even after over a hundred casualties from those bombs, and the Iraqi Security Forces trying to stop the waves of people, returns have continued almost unabated. Now that Fallujah and Garma have been freed there will likely be a new mass of people going back there in the near future.
The problem is that people returning to those cities cannot expect much. In Ramadi some schools have re-opened, and electricity is running at the government center and some hospitals, but outside of those areas there are only local generators at work to provide power. Otherwise most of the bridges in the city spanning the Euphrates that bisect the city are destroyed, along with the water purification and power plants, and many of the electricity poles have been knocked down. There is also no running water, forcing the government and aid agencies to ship in bottles and setting up pumps to bring in unpurified water from the river. People will find the same situation when Fallujah and Garma are opened up to returns. That means the displaced might be happy to be back in their cities, but they can hardly begin rebuilding as most of the basic services are non-existent right now.
To make the situation worse there is no money for reconstruction. The Anbar government and Baghdad have no funds for rebuilding because the economy is in a recession due to the collapse of oil prices made worse by the cost of the war. Aid agencies have only gotten a fraction of the money they have asked for, and there are few of them in the province because it is an active warzone. The U.S. tried to help the situation by recently hosting a conference to garner international donations for humanitarian relief in Iraq. That was able to raise several millions, but it will likely take months to work its way through the bureaucracy and actually reach people in Anbar. Iraq has a state run economy so if it is broke and there is little aid coming through that will mean the province’s cities will have few job opportunities, which is another crucial missing element along with services to impede the rebuilding process.
Anbar has the largest displacement problem in the country. Many are obviously anxious about going back to their cities and homes. The question now is what kind of life will they have once they have returned. The situation seems bleak, and some governorate officials are already afraid this will create a backlash of resentment. The problem is that there is no way the humanitarian situation will improve any time soon because there is simply no money for the province. That may cause continued instability in Anbar, which will only bode ill for the future.
Arraf, Jane, “Nearby, but far away: Why aid doesn't make it from Baghdad to refugee camp,” Christian Science Monitor, 7/25/16
Buratha News, “major return of displaced families to Ramadi,” 7/20/16
George, Susannah, “UN warns of dangers as Iraqis displaced by Islamic State return home,” Associated Press, 7/28/16
Al Mada, “Anbar Council acknowledges the difficulty of returning to Ramadi and the tragic situation of the displaced,” 7/28/16
- “Failure to address the IDP crisis prevents Anbar Council from returning to Ramadi,” 7/30/16
- “Fallujah needs three months for the return of its inhabitants,” 8/1/16
- “International organization: Anbaris are returning to their areas despite United Nations warnings,” 8/3/16
- “Ramadi mayor: the return of 60% of the displaced families to the city and rehabilitation operations,” 7/12/16
- “Return of 60% of the displaced people of Ramadi..and security postpones the return of people to Garma,” 7/13/16