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The Republic of Iraq

Iraq's biggest challenges

Iraq hosts an estimated 253 371 Syrians, and has an estimated 3.17 million internally displaced people (IDPs). Around 97% of Syrian refugees are based in the Kurdistan region. The escalation of the conflict and the Syrian conflict has taken a serious toll on the environment, especially in areas with a high concentration of refugee populations. Certain areas are experiencing a serious degradation of natural resources, such as water, forests and rangelands. In addition, issues surrounding the inadequate management and desludging of wastewater and the disposal of solid waste, have further increased.


Government type: federal parliamentary republic

Capital: Baghdad

Population: 40 194 216 (July 2018 estimate)

Population growth rate: 2.5% (2018 estimate)

Land area: 438 317 sq. km  

GDP (real growth rate): -2.1% (2017)

Population below poverty line: 23% (2014)

Ethnic groups: Arab 75-80%, Kurdish 15–20%, other 5% (includes Turkmen, Yezidi, Shabak, Kaka’i, Bedouin, Romani, Assyrian, Circassian, Sabaean-Mandaean, Persian)

note: the data represent the population by self-identified nationality

Religion: Muslim (official) 9598% (Shia 64–69%, Sunni 29–34%), Christian 1% (includes Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Assyrian Church of the East), other 1-4% (2015 estimate)

note: the data is a 1987 Iraqi government estimate – no more recent reliable information is available

Population distribution: population is concentrated in the north, center, and eastern parts of the country, with many of the larger urban agglomerations found along extensive parts of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers; much of the western and southern areas are either lightly populated or uninhabited

Urban population: 70.5% of total population (2018)

Refugees: refugees (country of origin): 15 514 (Turkey), 7 865 (West Bank and Gaza Strip), 7 143 (Iran) (2017) 253 371 (Syria) (2019)

Internally displaced People (IDPs): 2 699 108 (includes displacement between 2006 and 2008 due to ethno-sectarian violence and displacement in central and northern Iraq since January 2014) (2019)

stateless persons: 47 630 (2017); note – in the 1970s and 1980s under Saddam Hussein’s regime, thousands of Iraq’s Faili Kurds (followers of Shia Islam) were stripped of their Iraqi citizenship, had their property seized by the government, and many were deported; some Faili Kurds had their citizenship reinstated under the 2006 Iraqi Nationality Law, but others lack the documentation to prove their Iraqi origins; some Palestinian refugees persecuted by the Saddam Hussein’s regime remain stateless

(Source: CIA: The World Factbook UNHCR

Iraq's biggest challenges

Iraq hosts around 246 434 Syrian refugees of which 97% of are located in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KR-I), while the remaining 3% are in the center and south, mainly in the Baghdad governorate. The vast majority of Syrians in Iraq are of Kurdish ethnicity. An estimated 37% of Syrian refugees are currently living in nine refugee camps across KR-I. In addition, Iraq has an estimated 3.17 million internally displaced people.

The escalation of armed conflict in Iraq has resulted in a deep humanitarian crisis, deterioration of both the accessibility and quality of essential services for both refugees and their host community. With over 30 years of armed conflict, the invasion of the US army, the rise of the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS) and the Iraqi Civil War (2014 – 2017), an estimated 8.2 million of the 36 million people living in Iraq are in need of humanitarian assistance, including 4.4 million people facing food insecurity.

Due to a concentration of refugees in certain areas, natural resources such as water, forests and rangelands have degraded. The highly populated refugee communities require more water, diverting it from agriculture, inducing negative consequences in terms of food security and the rural economy, as water scarcity is increasing. Furthermore, the management of wastewater in camps is challenging due to operational challenges and the high cost of desludging high volumes of wastewater. In addition, solid waste is disposed of directly into the environment without adequate treatment.

Even before the Syrian conflict and the rise of ISIS and the ensuing conflict in 2014, Iraq’s environment was heavily affected by weak environmental governance. In 2005, UNEP identified 60 pollution hotspots that needed remediation, five of which required immediate clean-up.

The Kurdistan region has been deeply overcrowded with Syrian refugees and IDPs which has led to the overloading of the municipal systems and infrastructure in the region. A UNDP funded post-conflict environmental assessment from 2015 identified a range of environmental issues affecting IDPs camps, noting an increase in solid waste management issues such as dumping and burning, the depletion of water resources in specific areas, and the potential for an increase in severe air pollution through increased emissions in the Kurdish region.

Crop production comprises 75% of the Iraqi agricultural sector, with cattle herding, fishing and beekeeping making up the remainder. Crop production has suffered heavily as a result of the conflict. The contamination of fields with unexploded ordnance and mines, the displacement of farmers, the looting and burning of silos and other facilities, the lack of fertilizers and seeds, and the collapse of government support, have all had a severe impact on farm yields.