Monday, August 16, 2010

The Humanitarian Situation Within Iraq

The United Nations, as part of its Millennium Development Goals program, has released a new set of statistics on the humanitarian situation within Iraq. The numbers show that the country is still struggling to meet the needs of its public.

Iraq, like many countries in the region, has a very young population. Almost half of Iraqis are below the age of 19 years old. The government faces difficulties educating them. While 87% of boys and 82% of girls are enrolled in school, many drop out before completing their studies. The percentage of youth going to school has also declined. In 2007 85% of kids were enrolled in primary school compared to 91% in 1990. The number of children that have completed 1st to 5th grade however has gone up from 76% in 1990 to 95% in 2006. After primary school there is a sharp decline in attendance, with only 44% finishing that level. Women are also under represented at every educational level. In addition, a little over 300,000 Iraqis aged 10-18 have never gone to school. Compared to the rest of the region, Iran and Turkey do better at 94% and 92% respectively, while Iraq is at the same level as Saudi Arabia at 85%.

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The lack of schooling is hurting literacy in the country. The literacy rate for 15-24 year olds increased from 79% in 1990 to 84% in 2007, and 26% of women are illiterate. That gives Iraq the highest illiteracy rate in the Middle East

Iraqi youth are also not learning important skills for a high technology world and economy. In a survey, 65% said they did not know how to use a computer, and only 13% said they used the internet. Both were lower rates than in neighboring countries.

There has been a marked decline in the quality of Iraq’s schools over the last few decades. In the 1960s and 1970s Iraq had one of the best education systems in the Middle East. Wars and sanctions robbed schools of funding. Displacement, poverty, discrimination against women, deteriorating infrastructure, overcrowded classrooms, security, lack of parent support, kids having little interest in their schooling, and outdated curriculum are all issues. The U.S. embassy in Baghdad has warned that if the education system isn’t improved, the younger generation could be an impediment to peace, stability, and economic growth.


Iraq has high unemployment and underemployment. In 2009 17.3% were unemployed and 29.4% underemployed, meaning almost half of the country struggles to find a steady job. Young people in Iraq face almost double the unemployment rate at 30%. In 1990 the youth jobless rate stood at only 7%. That doesn’t compare well other countries such as Turkey and Iran that have unemployment rates of 20% and 22% respectively for their young.

47% of youth with jobs were also dissatisfied with either their pay or type of work, and women face an even harder time with little over 18% participating in the work force. The percentage of women working outside of agriculture has also fallen from 11% in 1990 to 7% in 2008.

Overall, the Iraqi economy simply can’t provide enough jobs for the 450,000 people that enter the workforce each year. That’s largely because the country is dependent upon oil that is not a labor-intensive industry. In 2008 petroleum accounted for 56% of the GDP, but only 1% of jobs


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The lack of work and on-going violence in the country creates high poverty rates. Currently around 7 million Iraqis, 23% of the population lives below the poverty level of $2.20 per day. Rural areas have the highest percentage of poor people at 39%, but the largest concentration of poverty is in the urban centers. Iraq has also faced a sharp increase in food prices since the 1990s due to international sanctions and wars. The government implemented a food ration system as a result, but it only provides inconsistent basics, and has a negative affect upon the country’s agriculture sector.

Infant Mortality

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Iraq has made progress in fighting infant mortality, but it is still at the bottom of the region. Infant deaths went from 62 of every 1,000 births to 41 of every 1,000. Salahaddin has the worst rate at 70 deaths for every 1,000 live births. The number of children dying in the first five years of life has also dropped from 50 of every 1,000 children to 35 of every 1,000. That still makes Iraq the second to last in infant mortality rate in the region with only Yemen being below it.

Maternal deaths are another major problem. 84 mothers per 100,000 births die. That places Iraq with 67 other countries that account for 97% of all maternal deaths in the world. Iraq suffers from poor birth practices, inadequate to unavailable obstetric care, and high levels of anemia. That leads to 1 in 4 pregnancies having serious complications, which threaten the lives of the babies and their mothers.


Iraq’s history and economy has severely set back its development. Saddam Hussein’s misguided wars, United Nations sanctions, the 2003 invasion, and subsequent sectarian civil war have devastated the country’s education and health care systems. Professionals fled the nation, infrastructure was destroyed and deteriorated, and government support for services was severely cut. Baghdad today is faced with the gargantuan task of trying to make up for these decades of setbacks. While there have been some improvements in the humanitarian situation, when compared to the rest of the region Iraq still stands near the very bottom.


Carey, Nick and Kami, Aseel, “Special Report: Between Iraq and a rich place,” Reuters, 5/27/10

Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit, “Factsheet on Iraq Youth,” United Nations, August 2010

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 7/30/10

United Nations Country Team – Iraq, “The Millennium Development Goals In Iraq,” August 2010

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