By Ali Reza
It is no secret that the Middle East has been ravaged and all but torn asunder by war and international conflict—and the country of Iraq has born one of the heaviest burdens of all. As innocents throughout the nation have suffered, organizations like the United Nations have attempted to send much-needed food and humanitarian supplies.
These acts of goodwill have arrived with accompanying anxiety, however: A common fear is that humanitarian gifts will be diverted, squandered, or—worst of all—intercepted by violent extremist groups, such as ISIS.
But now, the United Nations has provided a much-needed tool to mitigate these problems—a humanitarian hotline that can be used to report cases of diverted or intercepted humanitarian aid. Those in Iraq who fear that humanitarian gifts have been commandeered can call the hotline and file a report, confident that someone will investigate the problem.
This may seem trivial—investigating an interception is hardly as meaningful as preventing it in the first place—yet it is a communication channel that has never existed in Iraq. As such, it is—if nothing else—a step in the right direction.
The State of Humanitarianism in Iraq
There remains an acute need for humanitarian relief in Iraq, with more than 3.1 displaced Iraqis in the region and a number of well-meaning organizations seeking to help and support them. The problem is, these non-profit organizations all provide different telephone numbers and contact information; meanwhile, when Iraqis receive aid, they often don’t know exactly where it’s coming from or who they can contact about potential problems.
A large number of Iraqis use cellphones—78 percent, to be exact. Tools of communication are not at all rare, then, yet—according to one NGO/UN-sponsored report, Iraqis still live in an “information vacuum,” which hampers their ability to cope with the catastrophes that have befallen their land.
For internally displaced people (IDPs), then, there is not just a lack of information, but also no real way to communicate needs. These Iraqis have myriad problems and generally lack for resources, but their biggest issue may be the lack of any real way to communicate these shortfalls with those who could potentially help.
The Answer: A Call Center
There is no way to address all of these issues or completely bridge this communication gap overnight, but there the United Nations has taken a bold step forward with the expedient launch of a new call center, which will be jointly run by various UN agencies. The goal of the call center: To provide IDPs with information, to hear and respond to complaints, and to relay feedback and urgent needs to the applicable humanitarian organizations.
The call center was launched just over a month ago, funded by the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR), in conjunction with several other bodies. The center provides one number—6999—that encompasses the entire humanitarian response system, and will hopefully bring some simplicity to a frequently confusing system.
Though the hotline currently comes with a charge, intense negotiations with a number of mobile providers has ensured that, at the end of August, the hotline’s services will become completely toll-free for the Iraqi people.