Pressure to Open Borders for Pilgrims despite Pandemic

By Hassan Ali Ahmed, for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iraq under pressure to open borders for Shiite pilgrims despite pandemic

While the Iraqi government attempts to prevent the spread of the delta variant from Iran, there is internal and external pressure to open its borders for Shiite pilgrims to visit the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf.

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Video: COVID and Security Concerns over Ashura in Iraq

From Al Jazeera. Any opinions expressed are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Preparations are under way in Karbala to mark Ashoura, a Shia Muslim commemoration.

People have started heading to the city despite concerns about security and COVID-19.

Al Jazeera's Mahmoud Abdelwahed reports from Karbala:

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US Donates COVID-19 Vaccines to Iraq

The United States Donates More Than 500,000 COVID-19 Vaccines to Iraq

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Matthew H. Tueller joined Iraqi Acting Minister of Health Hani al-Oqabi and other partners to receive the delivery of more than 500,000 doses of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to the Iraqi Ministry of Health as part of the ongoing partnership of the United States with the people of Iraq.

The vaccines were delivered via COVAX in coordination with the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

The United States provided these 503,100 vaccine doses free of charge to Iraq in reflection of our commitment to our shared fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.  This commitment was one of several made during the most recent session of the U.S.-Iraq Strategic Dialogue, held in Washington, D.C., July 23-26.

The United States, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), has provided more than $60 million to Iraq to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The United States is proud to partner with the Iraqi people to help save lives and defeat COVID-19.  Together, we will continue to build a world that is safer and more secure against the threat of infectious disease," said Ambassador Tueller.

This delivery of vaccines helps fulfill the White House global vaccine sharing allocation plan, announced on June 3, 2021, that prioritized an allotment for Iraq.

As President Biden promised, the United States is sharing vaccines with Iraq and many other countries to save lives and lead the world in ending the pandemic.

These safe and effective vaccines are key to protecting Iraqi lives and boosting Iraqi economic recovery.

(Source: US Embassy)

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Iraq’s Kurdistan Region detects first case of Delta Variant

By Al Monitor staff. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iraq's Kurdistan Region detects first case of Delta Variant

Several Middle Eastern governments have instituted measures aimed at mitigating the spread of COVID-19 variants recently.

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Kurdistan 2020 Oil Business “Crashed due to COVID-19”

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has released its annual oil and gas audit report for 2020, which revealed several drops in production due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The region's total exported and consumed oil for the year stood at 165,942,861 barrels, about 5 million barrels less comparing to 2019.

The average price of oil dropped to $28.1 per barrel as global markets crashed during the second quarter, with the gross value of crude oil sold via pipelines standing at $4,443,842,235.

As of Q4 2020, $294,315,126 of KRG funds remained held in a bank account in Lebanon due to restrictions on transferring foreign currency outside the country.

The full 2020 audit report is available here:

https://gov.krd/english/information-and-services/open-data/deloitte-reports/deloitte-report-2020/

(Source: KRG)

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New COVID-19 Guidelines for Travelers by Iraqi Kurdistan

In accordance with the global response against COVID-19 and the cautious lifting of restrictions, the Kurdistan Regional Government's Ministry of Health has updated official guidelines for travel to the Kurdistan Region.

Taking into consideration the public interest and the government's ongoing efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19, travelers entering the Kurdistan Region by land or air no longer have to undergo a COVID-19 test upon arrival if:

  1. They can produce an official negative COVID-19 test, taken within the last 48 hours prior to their arrival.
  2. They hold official proof of vaccination, confirming they have received both doses of immunization against COVID-19.

(Source: KRG)

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Addressing the Needs of Iraq’s Most Vulnerable

Addressing needs of Iraq's most vulnerable critical for inclusive and sustainable recovery from COVID-19, new UNDP reports say

Recovery strategies targeting Iraq's vulnerable populations - including women, youth and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) -  must be prioritized to ensure inclusive and sustainable recovery from COVID-19 in Iraq, according to two new complementary reports released today by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Iraq in collaboration with the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Both reports emanate from a study that explores the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on socio-economic status and livelihoods at the household level, with a focus on its impact on vulnerable groups such as women, youth, children, persons with disabilities, and displaced communities. It compares urban and rural settings and considers impacts in both Federal Iraq and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Original data collected and presented in the first report, Findings of the Assessment of COVID-19's Socioeconomic Impact on Iraq's Vulnerable Populations forms the basis for the subsequent policy report: Impact of COVID-19 on Iraq's Vulnerable Populations. The latter examines policy implications of the data findings and argues that building an inclusive path forward will require establishing sustainable systems and structures, listening and responding to the voices of the vulnerable, and laying out realistic goals to enable attainment of the 2030 Agenda.

Key findings include:

  • Income losses were widespread, with differences between Federal Iraq and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, displaced vs non-displaced populations, and women and men employees.
  • Daily workers were most affected by the economic downturn
  • COVID-19 led to high food costs and the need for coping strategies
  • While community insecurity and gender-based violence increased, community level tensions were low.
  • Delayed income and loss of employment opportunities impacted households
  • Women and female-headed households reported greater impacts in some areas, such as a reduction in household income.

The reports are the sixth and seventh papers in a series released by UNDP on the impact of COVID-19 in Iraq.

"COVID-19 has, and will continue to have, long-term consequences for vulnerable Iraqis in accessing sustainable livelihoods, food security, health and education - particularly women, youth, the elderly, people living with disabilities and the displaced," says Resident Representative of UNDP Iraq, Zena Ali Ahmad.

"As the report clearly suggests, without sufficient attention to these vulnerable communities, Iraq may not achieve long-term, equitable sustainable development and recovery, and risks undoing the progress made towards achieving Agenda 2030. This could further undermine the social contract between the State and its citizens at a time where this is of critical importance. We urge the Government of Iraq, Kurdistan Regional Government, local actors and the international community to consider the policy recommendations outlined in the report and band together and tackle this issue. As always, UNDP Iraq stands ready to support these efforts to improve the lives of all Iraqis," adds Ms Ali Ahmad.

UNDP Iraq is grateful to UN-Habitat and IOM for its partnership and important contributions to Findings of the Assessment of COVID-19's Socioeconomic Impact on Iraq's Vulnerable Population and Impact of COVID-19 on Iraq's Vulnerable Populations.

Previously released papers in UNDP's socioeconomic impact assessment series:

Impact of COVID-19 and the Oil Crisis on Iraq's Fragility

Impact of COVID-19 on the Iraqi Economy

Impact of COVID-19 on Social Cohesion in Iraq

Impact of COVID-19 on Social Protection in Iraq

Impact of COVID-19 on Environmental Sustainability in Iraq

(Source: UN)

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COVID-19: Iraq announces 10-Day Lockdown

By John Lee.

The Iraqi Cabinet on Tuesday approved a recommendation by the Higher Committee for Health and National Safety to impose a 10-day full curfew from May 12th to 22nd, following a rise in COVID-19 infections across the country.

All malls, restaurants, cafes, cinemas, event and wedding halls, swimming pools and gyms will be closed and public and private gatherings will be prohibited.

(Source: Govt of Iraq)

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COVID-19 hits Iraqi Labour Market, Enterprises

COVID-19 Dealt Heavy Blows to Iraqi Labour Market, Enterprises in 2020: IOM, FAO, ITC Study

In early April, Iraq surpassed 900,000 COVID-19 cases.

Necessary efforts to contain the spread of the virus throughout 2020 led to a reduction in economic activity; compounded by pre-existing economic challenges, drops in oil prices and the public health COVID-19 crisis, it is estimated that Iraq's economy contracted by 9.5 per cent in 2020.

To measure losses and investigate how small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Iraq are coping with the economic impact of COVID-19, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the International Trade Center (ITC) conducted a panel study in 2020 on 893 SMEs representing 16 sectors in 15 governorates in Iraq.

The study focused on the food and agriculture sector in order to determine variance in outcomes and effects on these firms when compared to non-agricultural businesses. The primary data used in this study was collected using ITC's COVID-19 corporate survey.

The new report Panel Study: Impact of COVID-19 on Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises in Iraq showcases the main findings from three rounds of data collection, covering the effect of border closures and lockdowns on revenue, production, and employment; accessibility of resources or ability to sell products; and mechanisms adopted to cope with the crisis.

Almost all firms in the study reported a decline in production or sales between February 2020, the pre-COVID-19 period, and the end of the year. Firms suffered large losses in revenue early on (an average decline of 67% by June).

Although revenue partially recovered between July and October, it did not reach pre-pandemic levels (firms reported a revenue drop on average of 23% between February and November). SMEs also reported incurring new debt over the year due to the pandemic, primarily through informal means such as borrowing from friends and family.

The labour market also suffered due to COVID-19. On average the number of employees in SMEs reduced by 27 per cent between February and June. By August, employment numbers began to recover but remained below pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2020, with the number of male and female employees, including full- and part-time, decreasing on average by seven per cent between February and November.

Furthermore, the reduction in employment temporarily widened the gender gap in the labour market. In February, there was 1 woman for every 15 men working in the surveyed SMEs. The gap reached 1 woman for every 19 men by August, but then decreased to 1 for 13 in November 2020.

Over the course of the study period, the mechanisms SMEs adopted to cope with the financial difficulties of the pandemic changed. Initially, SMEs laid off employees. Later, requesting leniency in repaying financial responsibilities and increasing marketing efforts emerged as the dominant strategies. In June, more than half of SMEs' reported being at risk of shutting down permanently (65%). By December, those reporting this risk reduced to less than a third (31%).

The same 893 SMEs were surveyed three times in 2020: 22 June to 7 July, 9 to 18 September, and 29 November to 15 December.

The study was funded by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) and the European Union.

(Source: UN)

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