PERMA (Promoting Economic Revival of Micro-businesses and Agriculture) in Al Hamdaniya, Iraq

By ALex Angulo

The urgent public health needs brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have understandably drawn donors’ attention towards supporting emergency interventions to mitigate the spread and immediate impact of the virus. However, it is also critical that we do not lose focus on the multi-sector interventions that address the systemic challenges that already existed, and have been exacerbated by the virus.

For many communities around the world, COVID-19 is just one crisis on top of many others, such as armed conflict, food insecurity, lack of livelihoods, gender inequality, and climate change. Indeed, research from past pandemics show how infectious diseases have a multiplier effect by increasing the risk of armed conflict, exacerbating disease transmission and stifling public health response; as an example, Mercy Corps’ experience in West Africa with the Ebola crisis showed areas that suffered the most from the virus also observed increased civil unrest between six and nine months after the outbreak. The COVID-19 pandemic has also devastated the global economy, with an estimated 14.3 million people expected to fall below the poverty line in Arab Middle Income and Least Developed countries. In Iraq, the pandemic has dramatically increased the number of Iraqis considered economically vulnerable — now as much as half the population, as estimated by the World Bank.

Never has it been more important to invest in systemic solutions which aim to support local communities to revive a strong governance, to develop robust economies and safeguard their livelihoods; and to build bridges within and between communities to work together to achieve their collective needs.

During the 2020 Paris Peace Forum, Mercy Corps and its partners Triangle génération humanitaire and Public Aid Organisation, will be presenting its flagship programme in Iraq: Promoting Economic Revival of Micro-businesses and Agriculture (PERMA). Funded by AFD, PERMA is working to rehabilitate the agricultural sector in Al Hamdaniya in Ninewa to recover from the devastation of the conflict with ISIS. Rebuilding the agricultural industry is paramount to rebuilding Iraq; agriculture is the second largest industry, employing nearly one third of the country’s population. Ninewa, once Iraq’s most productive farming region, continues to grapple with the painful aftermath of the conflict with ISIS. Infrastructure has been completely destroyed; thousands have been displaced from their homes; land and crops have been burned; and the banking sector has nearly collapsed due to a lack of liquidity and infrastructure. Farmers lost their livelihoods and were forced to find other sources of income And with COVID-19, the farmers of Al-Hamdaniyah are even more tired, angry, and disillusioned with their government.

COVID-19 has further threatened livelihoods, as well as the progress Iraq has made in recent years strengthening democratic institutions and nurturing a vibrant civil society,This adds further urgency to the efforts under programmes like PERMA.

Recognising the fractured relationships within diverse communities in Ninewa, PERMA is working with farmer groups and associations to facilitate spaces where farmers can discuss and build relationships with the government and private sector, advocate for their collective needs, and strengthen business relationships with each other, even under the backdrop of the pandemic. It is these platforms that are being used to facilitate equitable access to equipment to revive agricultural production, negotiate more affordable prices for agricultural inputs and access capital to recover their productive businesses.

While programmes, like PERMA should be adapted to address the immediate impacts of the virus, they must also continue the systemic work that will support communities to survive this pandemic and future crises in the longer-term. This includes supporting transparency and accountability of government institutions, promoting responsive service delivery, supporting local economies to thrive, and rebuilding market connections.

Views expressed in this publication are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Paris Peace Forum.

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Alex Angulo has worked in the field of humanitarian aid and development for 25 years, for some of the key agencies in relief, aid and development. Her areas of speciality have included disaster prevention, donor compliance, and sector-leading approaches to risk mitigation and governance. Alex was appointed Interim Executive Director of Mercy Corps Europe in June 2020. She joined Mercy Corps in 2006 and worked both with the programmes and finance teams, before leading the Compliance, Governance & Risk function in Europe.

Prior to joining Mercy Corps, Alex started her career in the European Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) where she helped launch the ECHO Disaster Preparedness Programme covering the Andean countries, the Caribbean, South East Asia and East Africa. She then joined the International Red Cross, working in their EU representation office in Brussels. Alex has field experience in Macedonia, Kosovo and Serbia where she coordinated the management and reporting of the largest ECHO funded Red Cross programme during the Kosovo conflict.

Alex is a determined advocate of disciplined and challenging governance in the humanitarian sector, and detailed scrutiny and reform of risk and compliance mechanisms that support donor and wider public support.

Originally from Colombia, Alex lives now in Edinburgh with her family, where her support for Scottish rugby does not contradict her loyalty to Colombian football.

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