Winter is approaching in many countries where Islamic Relief works. For those without a proper home, winter has the potential to cause illness, suffering, and sometimes death. Samantha Juliana, a programme manager at Islamic Relief’s Iraq office, reports.
Many people imagine Iraq to be a warm country, but it does get very cold in the winter season. Around now, in November, we start to get heavy rains and the temperatures plummets. In December and January, we often have snow and temperatures fall below 0c.
There are currently around 3 million displaced Iraqis and around 250,000 UNHCR-registered Syrian refugees in Iraq. Many of these people are living in flimsy structures – either tents or makeshift walls covered with a tarpaulin sheet and these are the people who we hope to help this winter by distributing stoves, blankets, mattresses and pillows, and children’s clothes and boots.
It is almost impossible to exaggerate the conditions in the camps. The ground is often soil, and when it rains, the ground becomes inaccessible for vehicles and the area becomes a horrible muddy mess.
Children will often come inside covered in mud, getting their homes dirty, and parents will struggle to clean them properly or do laundry in such difficult weather. When tents become soaked through from the rain, families cannot get clean, they cannot get dry and they cannot get warm.
The most dangerous issue though is the accumulation of rain water in open spaces and the exposed electric cables. Every winter, we hear about people getting electrocuted, and especially vulnerable to this are children, who often play outside and do not always understand the hazards. The poor electricity is also a fire hazard, and we know of tents catching fire.
Outside the camps, improvised shelter rarely withstands the strong winds. Imagine facing a winter without anywhere to shelter at all. People become so cold they can barely sleep.
All these families, especially children and more elderly people, often become unwell with colds or flu, and without easily-accessible medication and nowhere warm to shelter and rest, overcoming these illnesses is not easy.
I don’t want to paint an entirely miserable picture of winter in Iraq. Yes, times are hard and winter places an extra burden on people, but it would be wrong for us to suggest that life is joyless.
It is surprising how resilient people can be. Families are still enjoying time together, children are still able to play, babies are being born, and life is progressing.
This winter, Islamic Relief plans to reach 45,000 people who are either internally-displaced or refugee in Iraq. When we have the capacity to make the winter a little more bearable for them, it is unthinkable that we do not.