The heat is on in Iraq’s refugee camps

It’s been over a month since daytime temperatures have fallen below 35 degrees celsius in Erbil, in the northern Kurdistan region of Iraq. High 40 degree weather pushing into the 50s has been a trying theme leading the long, hot days.

For the some 100,000 Syrian refugees and 250,000 displaced Iraqi’s, handling the 2015 summer outside in camps and under plastic, miss-matched tarpaulins or concrete makeshift shelters at best, has resulted in yet another testing time no-one needs added to their long list of problems.

Ahmad Khalif fled from Al-Hasakah during the Syrian civil war when the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) invaded. Taking nothing but the clothes on his back, the 42-year old has fought to keep his young family of seven safe. In August 2014 they eventually found refuge in Darashakran refugee camp, Kurdistan, Iraq.

Kneeling with his eldest boy and wife in the single barren concrete room they live in, he speaks only of wanting to keep his family alive and give his children education. With no ventilation, the only comfort from the heat the room provides is blocking the burning sunrays. Constant power-cuts in the camp has meant a refrigerator sits lifeless more times than not. The only relief comes from a fan seated on the floor. The extreme heat, Ahmad notes, listed as just yet another test to endure.

But while Ahmad and many other Syrian refugees in the camps may be reluctant to complain about the searing temperatures, according Mostafa Munjid, a doctor with the International Medical Corps who overseas medical care in four refugee and displacement sites, the impact is severe.

“During the summer we usually see an increase in (deaths) as a result of gastroenteritis,” Mostafa told IRIN recently. “Sometimes because of the camp situation and storage of food; sometimes because of contamination of water.”

A helping hand
For the Danish Refugee Council’s Iraq team helping people keep cool has remained a priority this summer. In June, before the high temperatures struck, with funding support from United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, its distribution team delivered two new mats, a fan and water container to over 6200 families across the six refugee camps it manages. The distribution was carried out along with International Organisation for Migration which added cool boxes, torches and pillows to the summer distribution kit.

“The fan is very useful because when the power cut we can use it to keep cool. We do not have refrigerator so having a cool box we can now stop our food going bad,” said Wans. Stringing up winter blankets to block out the sun has become popular around the camps.

For Wasilia and Mahmoud who live with their five children, the distribution kit has helped make the long summer “bearable.” More funding from donors for generators to maintain electricity is a constant ask.

The DRC has been operating in Iraq since the advent of military operations in 2003, becoming one of the first organisations to provide humanitarian assistance. Today its operation extends to eight different governorates across Iraq with offices based in Erbil, Duhok, Baghdad, Kirkuk, Kerbala and Najaf.