"We Need Clean Water": Families Displaced from Northern Iraq at Risk

Our teams race to provide safe water and sanitation solutions for families displaced by violence in Northern Iraq
Our teams and community members install a latrine in Garmawa camp. Photo: ACF-Kurdistan
Our teams and community members install a latrine in Garmawa camp. Photo: ACF-Kurdistan

In one week, hundreds of thousands of people have fled violence in Northern Iraq and now face extremely difficult living conditions. Some have found shelter with relatives or in schools, mosques, or unfinished buildings. Others are living in temporary camps, like the one at Garmawa, where Action Against Hunger is racing to provide critical emergency services.

The urgent need for clean water in Garmawa camp

In the Garmawa camp, families crowd into tents, but they can’t escape the extreme heat—sometimes soaring above 100 degrees Fahrenheit—or the strong wind that carries sand and dust with it. In these harsh conditions, good hygiene is more important than ever, but it also becomes more difficult to maintain without access to clean water, soap, or sanitary facilities. Many people fled with only what they could carry, so they now lack basic health and hygiene necessities. And with more people arriving every day, the risk for diarrhea and dehydration is growing.

“We need clean water because we don’t want our children to become sick. How can we stay healthy when we are crowded under a tent, in the middle of nowhere, in extreme heat and without clean water or real toilets?”

Displaced Iraqi man living in the Garmawa camp

Improving access to water and sanitation

To respond to these needs, our rapid response teams have already installed the first four latrines and a water tank with a tap stand. We recruited men from the camp community to dig pits and help install the latrines, which gave them the opportunity to earn money for their families. At the same time, we worked with UNICEF to distribute clean water and hygiene kits to families in need.

“These hygiene kits contain soap, detergent, towels, toilet paper, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and other items for daily hygiene practices. People will able to wash their hands and their clothes, and take showers. They will feel better and the risk of diseases will also be reduced.” 

- Morshed, water, sanitation and hygiene program manager, ACF-Kurdistan

We know that hygiene kit distributions are not just about the supplies families receive. They should also receive lessons in good hygiene practices. For example, many people were unaware of how to properly use the water purification tablets they received; at home, their water was drinkable, so they weren’t accustomed to taking extra precautions with water in the camps. Through our instruction, they learned how to use the water purification tablets to keep their water supply clean. 

As soon as our teams finished installing the taps, they heard splashes and laughter: a dozen children and adults had come to wash their hands and freshen up. It is a heartening start, and we’re not done yet. With a projected capacity to host 10,000 people, the Garmawa camp will need many more sanitation facilities. In the coming days, we plan to install more water tanks, tap stands and latrines to improve access to clean water and decrease the risk of disease for displaced families and their host communities.


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About Julia Belusa

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Julia is Action Against Hunger's communications officer, reporting on the humanitarian crisis in the Kurdistan Republic of Iraq and our response.