Iraq News - Local News - Baghdadpost

Life in an Iraq internally displaced persons camp is crowded and dirty

This is the latest iteration from earlier failures to present a description of life within an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in northern Iraq.

I can't provide an accurate account because I don't live in a camp; I only visit. Any attempt at such a description would include tangible items such as the camp acreage, population and population density, demographics, resource usage, or security incidents; anything upon which a number can hang. 
These are the easy points.

The more elusive are the intangibles such as despair, aspirations, or hope that would be difficult enough to gauge in normal times and in more normal situations. Here today, normal is under construction and likely to be nearly un-recognizable when attained.

Over the course of the past few years in Iraq, several million residents have been rendered homeless for a time by incessant warfare. First it was sectarian religious and tribal blood feuds, then al-Qaida, and now by the terrorism of ISIS attempting to establish a caliphate carved from lands in both present-day Syria and Iraq. This warfare- created homelessness has been addressed by various Iraqi governmental units with assistance from international humanitarian and relief organizations up to and including the United Nations.

Many of the displaced and homeless persons have found residence with friends and family in less volatile parts of the country. Some have sought shelter as refugees in Europe or the Americas. Most, however, have found respite in the many IDP camps scattered about the countryside. As of the first of April, from the fighting in and around Mosul alone, nearly a half million remain sheltered away from their homes in IDP camps. These camps range in occupancy size from over 65,000 in the Qayyarah Jad'ah camp to under 2,000 in the Qaymawa camp.

Upon entering Khazir 1 camp, one of the oldest and largest here, all of one's senses are immediately assaulted. The first is simply the vast number of people in such a small confined space. If we are to grasp how congested this place is, the relative density of population to acres in Fort Wayne is about 3.6 people per acre based on currently estimated figures of about 260,000 people on 71,040 acres of land. Tokyo, with a population of 13.6 million, has a relative population density per acre of 25.2. Khazir 1 IDP camp has a relative population density of over 450 people per acre of land, just a tad bit more crowded. So, if you believe Fort Wayne is crowded at times or have ever visited Tokyo and found it claustrophobic, stay away from here.

Without detailing what is here, maybe it would be easier to point out what is not here. There is no hot and cold running water available at the turn of a handle. The water is stored in communal tanks and trucked in, hopefully on a regularly consistent schedule. There is no air conditioning even with the upcoming triple-digit summer temperatures. There are no shade trees. There are no restaurants to choose from for a night on the town, probably because there are no restaurants. There are no paved roads. There are no malls or Wal-Marts or Best Buys, although some commerce is available on a very small scale. There's little disposable income, so I suppose that isn't a big deal anyway.

There is no variety in the size, shape, or color of a residence and no allowance provided for family size; all the units are the same, over 5,400 individual tents. There is no schooling for nearly half the camp population of children of secondary-school age. There are no vehicles for transportation within the camp so if you want to go anywhere you walk, or the kids run. The bulk of your food is provided on a monthly basis – 170 pounds of flour, rice, lentils/ beans, salt, sugar, and cooking oil – so hopefully the providing entity doesn't forget or get hung up by the violence of war or the ineptitude of local bureaucrats. And finally, for now, there is no freedom of movement out of or into the camp. No commuting to work or school, no visiting your aunt Dora, and no vacation to the shore or trip to a Colts game. And should you take the plunge and formally sign out of a camp for the purpose of re-inhabiting your home only to arrive there and discover it un-inhabitable, you cannot return to that camp or any other IDP camp in the entire country. It's either fully in or fully out, no back and forth.

So, what is here? Just a dirty, acrid smelling pest-infested despairing minimalist existence. Without adequate soap and water the smell of the un-washed masses is practically overpowering. Hopelessness is nearly palpable and the future without light. Except for the kids of course, as kids will always be kids no matter where they are. This isn't an existence I desire nor wish upon anyone. However, I suppose the reality these folk fled is much worse or they would not be here. Maybe the battlefield will soon evolve whereby they can return to their homes and begin the heavy lifting of starting all over; or maybe not. It's always difficult to make accurate predictions, especially about the future. Here it's nearly impossible.

Stan Jones of Spencerville is working with a non-governmental organization operating in northern Iraq. He is writing an occasional column for The News-Sentinel.