A United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team that deployed on 14 November upon the request of the Government of Iraq, following a 7.3-magnitude earthquake that struck Iran and affected northeastern Iraq, completed its mission on 2 December.

In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, the local authorities led search, rescue and relief operations with strong support of locally-based UN agencies and international NGOs. When the UNDAC team arrived in Baghdad on 15 November, findings of the OCHA-led inter-agency initial needs assessments indicated that the humanitarian impact was not as severe or widespread as initially feared. OCHA and partners helped the Government to manage the rapid response very well despite the continuing Level 3 Emergency. By 17 November, the high-level delegation led by Government sent to the affected areas by the central government concluded that humanitarian needs had, for the most part, been addressed. The authorities however remained concerned about the damage to the Darbandikhan dam, which if it failed, would affect the population downstream for up to 100 km.

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The UNDAC team conducted a rapid UNDAC disaster response preparedness evaluation on the national disaster preparedness and response capacity and plans in the affected districts. The areas never experienced an earthquake and communities were not prepared nor well equipped to deal with the response appropriately at all levels. Recommendations on first response arrangements have been shared with the authorities, and in line with the standards recommended by the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group –INSARAG.

The highly qualified Hydro-Structural Engineer deployed jointly with UNDAC by the European Civil Protection Mechanism concluded that there was no imminent threat of flooding in regards to the affected dam, following interviews, onsite inspections and review of preliminary results of joint technical investigations. This perspective was also shared by World Bank experts and government water authorities. Satellite images and analyses provided by the UNOSAT, another UNDAC partner, also confirmed the engineer’s investigations.

The team presented its findings and recommendations to the national disaster management authority on 29 November. The Government welcomed all recommendations, and accepted the invitation to join the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group, INSARAG, and took steps to apply for membership. UNDAC also did further study at the request of the Iraqi government which enquired about earthquake vulnerability – to this, studies and research evidence has made it overwhelmingly clear that North-East Iraq is indeed prone to possible future earthquakes and that they have to be prepared for such eventuality.

Before departure, the team debriefed in Baghdad UNDP, the World Bank and key donors such as Sweden, Canada and the United States, to open avenues for the implementation of other recommendations that require medium to long-term investments and alignment with programmes underway.

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This was the 13th UNDAC mission in 2017 and the 281st in UNDAC’s 24-year history that was sent to respond to a sudden onset natural disaster that occurred in a complex emergency environment.