UK

Why Can't Charities Raise Money To Help Iraq?

29/06/2014 14:02 BST | Updated 29/06/2014 14:59 BST

The images of Iraq could hardly be more harrowing. But despite the stream of pictures of trudging refugees, screaming children and terrified families, there has been no great rallying cry to help the afflicted.

Charities have admitted that although they do their best to fundraise for families pulled down in Iraq's terrifying descent into chaos after ISIS insurgents took control of key cities in the north, the politics of the region mean public giving is meagre to say the least.

"From the public, I imagine the amount is negligible," Dan Colinson, programmes director for War Child told HuffPost UK. "We won't see the amount of public donations like we would for a DEC appeal, like for the Philippines or Haiti."

iraq refugee

Iraqi refugees sit at the Khazir refugee camp outside Irbil north Iraq

Christian Aid is one of many charities that has launched a Iraq Crisis Appeal, but fundraising manager Susan Barry said they had not raised "as much as we'd hoped".

"We always knew it would be difficult because of the intense political situation, but those who have given have been very generous," she told HuffPost UK.

Sayyeda Salam, Save the Children's philanthropy director currently based in Jordan, agreed that it was often the case that complex politics made it harder for donors to engage. "There is a perceived intractability of Middle East crises – such as Syria and Iraq and Palestine – and the political nature of these conflicts and how much can humanitarian actors do in these situations, makes it a fundraising challenge," she told HuffPost UK.

"Iraq is really, really complex, which is the problem when it comes to telling the story of the crisis," she added. "The media focus is on the politics, what Britain should or shouldn't have done militarily. Also, people need to feel their money is actually going to help, Iraq has been lurching from crisis to crisis to crisis, and no one is sure what will happen next. It's a hard message to convey.

"We know the crisis in Syria and Iraq is likely to continue for a number of years as well. When something is this such a political hot topic, so controversial and so complex, it is hard for people to pay attention to the human stories."

Just a week after Islamist insurgents captured Mosul in northern Iraq, the UN upgraded the country to a level 3 humanitarian crisis. There are now 1.5 million displaced people in Iraq, including Syrian refugees, and the crisis is expected to deepen even further. Between the 5th and 22nd June 2014, the death toll has reached an average of at least 59 deaths per day.

Save the Children Iraq

According to the UN there are 250,000 newly displaced children and Iraq was already the seventh largest source of refugees in the world in 2013. Children and young people aged 0-24 make up over 56% of the population of Iraq and the average age of inhabitants is 21 - so children and young people are likely to be the majority affected demographic.

Politicians are not leading by example - though the UK has provided £3m in emergency funding. The UN appeal for Iraq was one of the least-funded for 2014 - just 6% has been received of the £60.4m called for. The United Nations has now tripled its appeal for humanitarian funding for Iraq in 2014 to more than £183m.

In 2012 the National Council for Voluntary Organisations surveyed the most popular charitable causes in the UK

  • 38% said they gave to medical research
  • 26% said they gave to hospitals
  • 24% said they gave to British children's charities
  • 17% said they gave to international aid charities
  • 14% said they gave to animal charities
  • 13% said they gave to religious charities
  • 11% said they gave to disability charities
  • 9% said they gave to homelessness charities
  • 7% said they gave to schools
  • 5% said they gave to environmental charities
  • 3% said they gave to sports charities
  • 1% said they gave to arts charities

Save the Children has warned that over the weekend, humanitarian organisations will see thousands more families arriving, seeking sanctuary from Karakosh, Ba'akshiqa and other villages. Most people are arriving with almost nothing and need emergency supplies of food, water and shelter.

Save the Children's country director in Iraq, Tina Yu, said the charity needed £6m to do the work: "This is only the latest development in the massive humanitarian crisis which has engulfed Iraq, with hundreds of thousands of children forced to flee with their families to escape the violence in the north and west of the country. ​We also should not forget that there are already a quarter of a million Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.”

The dangerous and unpredictable nature of the conflict has made it exceptionally difficult for aid workers. "In parts of Nineveh and Mosul, it's really too dangerous to be able to go and get a really complete idea of what is happening on the ground," Colinson said. "People aren't sure that their money is going to get to the specific place. And the political situation there is so complicated, people aren't sure who to support, what action to take."

Save the Children Iraq

All this has led to circumstances where potential donors are put off by the question - how do I know that my money will actually reach these people, in such an unpredictable climate. "I can totally empathise why people think that," Christian Aid's Barry said. "But the fact is that we have been in Iraq for many many years, working with people we trust on the ground and we know how to respond."

All of the aid agencies agreed that natural disasters prompted a far more immediate outpouring of support than war - especially in a region where vast swathes of the British public believe that we should have no further involvement in.

"Natural disaster are easier for people to give to than war - it's not bound-up with politics and diplomacy,' Colinson said.

"We raised £4.7m for the Phillippines in six months, £8.9m for Syria in two and a half years," Salam added.

"It is easier to raise money for natural disasters, people see the pictures, they see the vast extent of it and they want to give," Christian Aid's Barry added. "That's not to say they don't want to give or to help [Iraq], but it is a confusing situation.

"The other thing is that the media attention is so heavily focused on the political situation, that's what all the headlines are about. There's so much less about the hundreds of thousands of refugees left with nothing, the lack of shelter or of clean water. We need to keep trying to get those stories out there."

Salam said there was one notable exception, when fundraising for Syria. "One advert really connected, that was the little girl in Britain shown over a period of a year, as her world descends into conflict. We have to find a way to tell that human story, to show that these people of Mosul were middle class, living lives similar to ours and they have lost everything, apart from the clothes on their backs, within hours. That's the story that really gets people."