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Table of Contents
Year : 2022  |  Volume : 20  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 98-106

Assessment of perceptions of climate change and its causes and impacts on mental health and psychosocial wellbeing among a group of internally displaced persons in Iraq

1 MRCPsych (UK), MSc, MBBCh, Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Programme Coordinator, The International Organization for Migration (IOM), Iraq
2 PhD, Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Programme Officer, IOM, Iraq
3 MS, Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Programme Officer, IOM, Iraq
4 MA, National Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Programme Officer, IOM, Iraq
5 BDS, National Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Programme Officer, IOM, Iraq

Date of Submission15-Dec-2021
Date of Decision21-Feb-2022
Date of Acceptance22-Mar-2022
Date of Web Publication31-May-2022

Correspondence Address:
Hatem Alaa Marzouk
Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Programme Coordinator, The International Organization for Migration (IOM)
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/intv.intv_40_21

Rights and Permissions

Extreme weather conditions across Iraq influence people's psychosocial wellbeing, particularly the wellbeing of internally displaced persons (IDPs). This research examines the perceptions of climate change, as well as its causes and impacts on the everyday lives of IDPs in Iraq, and what needs to be done to mitigate these impacts. Following a literature review, this study presents a survey developed and carried out by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) with IDPs in Ninewa and Duhok camp settings to assess interest in climate change, the impacts of climate change on the IDP population, the observed importance of addressing climate change and what actions can be taken to mitigate such impacts. Key research findings illustrate that most IDPs (80%) have observed climate change in their lives and have been affected directly by climate change (74%). Apart from detailing these findings, the study presents the solutions suggested by the IDPs to address climate change impacts. Based on these suggestions, this study then introduces policy-relevant recommendations to enhance the psychosocial wellbeing of the IDPs across Iraq and support government authorities, national policymakers and humanitarian actors in responding to the needs of the affected population associated with the consequences of climate change.

Keywords: climate change, climate migration, displacement, IOM, Iraq, mental health and psychosocial support

How to cite this article:
Marzouk HA, Duman Y, Meier J, Khudhur QL, Alani O. Assessment of perceptions of climate change and its causes and impacts on mental health and psychosocial wellbeing among a group of internally displaced persons in Iraq. Intervention 2022;20:98-106

How to cite this URL:
Marzouk HA, Duman Y, Meier J, Khudhur QL, Alani O. Assessment of perceptions of climate change and its causes and impacts on mental health and psychosocial wellbeing among a group of internally displaced persons in Iraq. Intervention [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 Jun 3];20:98-106. Available from: http://www.interventionjournal.org//text.asp?2022/20/1/98/346333

Key implications for practice

  • Climate change and extreme weather conditions are associated with several social, economic, and health related issues that negatively influence IDPs’ mental health and psychosocial wellbeing which decreases their ability and resilience to respond to psychosocial challenges related to displacement.
  • Not all surveyed IDPs in Iraq believe that addressing climate change as a priority is as important as addressing their basic needs during protracted conflict and displacement.
  • The extent to which camps are influenced by both extreme hot and extreme cold weather conditions plays a key role in IDPs’ psychosocial wellbeing with the former leading to more negative consequences.

  Introduction Top

Climate change consequences pose fundamental threats to public health, affecting individuals and communities around the world. According to the World Health Organization (2021), climate change significantly affects the social and environmental determinants of health (e.g. clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter) and is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress between 2030 and 2050. In addition to their impacts on physical health, it has been evidenced that climate change related events are closely associated with mental health and psychosocial wellbeing including “psychological distress, worsened mental health (particularly among people with pre-existing mental health conditions), increased psychiatric hospitalisations, higher mortality among people with mental illness” (Charlson et al., 2021). Studies show that individuals affected by climate-related disasters such as floods develop psychological responses that manifest signs and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression (Fernandez et al., 2015; Trombley et al., 2017). This means that impacts of climate change comprise both physical and mental health problems, particularly under circumstances in which existing acute and chronic mental health conditions are exacerbated (Liu et al., 2020).

Iraq is one of the countries which has been most affected by climate change, particularly due to frequent and intense extreme weather events and rising environmental degradation and precipitation deficit throughout the country (Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit (IAU), 2012; REACH, 2021; World Bank, n.d.). As noted in the following section, although studies have been conducted on environmental impacts of climate change in Iraq, perceptions of climate change and its impacts on mental health and psychosocial wellbeing have not been investigated enough in the Iraqi context where the population has gone through decades of internal conflicts and displacement. This study was therefore conducted in internally displaced person (IDP) camps in the governorates of Duhok (Qadia and Kabarto camps) and Ninewa (Hassan Sham U3 camp). Duhok lies in the northwest of Iraq and western part of Kurdistan region, about 470 km north of Baghdad and Ninewa is situated on the east bank of the Tigris River and its capital is the modern city of Mosul. The IDPs living in these camps consist of people fleeing their original settlements due to the ISIL's military offensive in northern Iraq launched in the summer of 2014 and the clashes between the ISIL and Iraqi armed forces breaking out in the aftermath. As of January 2022, the total number of households living in Hassan Sham U3 camp was 1,261 making a total of 5,737 IDPs (55% female and 60% children), with the majority of the residents being from Mosul governorate and Mosul plains, with nearly half originating from West Mosul and the surrounding towns and villages (Karama, Baaj, Tal Afar) (UNHCR, 2022). As of-12-2021, the total number of IDP households in Duhok was 26,572 making a total of 135,047 IDPs in 16 camps. The number of households in the camps surveyed in this study was 4630 households, making a total of 23,208 IDPs in Kabarto camp and 2414 households in Qadia camp (also known as Rwanga community) making a total of 12,616 IDPs (DOH Duhok, 2021).

The aim of the study is to understand IDPs' perceptions of climate change and its underlying reasons, the importance of addressing climate change and the impacts of extreme hot and cold weather conditions on mental health and psychosocial wellbeing.

Framing Climate Change

Climate is measured over a long time and includes changes in seasonal temperature, rainfall averages and wind patterns. It is sometimes mistaken for weather which refers to conditions of the atmosphere over a short period of time. Climate change “refers to any change in climate over time, whether due to natural variability or because of human activity, related to precipitation, temperature, air composition, atmospheric circulations, weather extremes and solar radiation” (Khayyat et al., 2020, p. 464). The effects of climate change on human and natural systems may have both “beneficial or adverse outcomes for livelihoods, health and wellbeing, ecosystems and species, services, infrastructure, and economic, social and cultural assets” across the globe (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2019, p. 24; Climate Impact Lab, 2021). However, in most cases, climate changes make it more difficult for people to sustain their livelihoods and carry out their day-to-day activities.

Climate Change Impacts in the Middle East and Iraq

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is a region that has long faced severe water shortages and high water stress (Kummu et al., 2016). In a world with global warming of 1.5°C, MENA will encounter further serious challenges that will make most of the region uninhabitable due to decreased rainfall, reduce growing areas for agriculture and limit already scarce natural water resources (World Bank, 2017). Facing a set of diverse environmental challenges, Iraq is considered one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change in the MENA region, particularly due to frequent and intense extreme weather events and rising environmental degradation (IAU, 2012; REACH, 2021). The country experiences severe climate-related challenges, including drought and water scarcity due to dry climate and low levels of surface water (i.e. diminished reservoirs, lakes and rivers across the country) and desertification due to inappropriate farming practices and mismanagement of water resources (IAU, 2012; USAID, 2017). Lack of technological capacity and methods to be used in integrated management of water and agriculture resources adds to the socioeconomic vulnerability of the Iraqi population.

Regional differences are observed across Iraq. The Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), located in the northern part of the country and characterised by its high mountains, has a higher percentage of vegetation cover (i.e. soil covered by plants in general) than the rest of Iraq (Al-Quraishi et al., 2020; IAU, 2012; USAID, 2017). However, the KRI also faces large-scale semiaridisation, “revealed by the rise of temperatures and the decline of the amount of precipitations, with negative effects visible in the desiccation of vegetation cover and surface water” (Khayyat et al., 2020, p. 464). Abbasa et al. (2016) find that the KRI has faced a significant reduction in water resources. This trend is likely to continue due to continuous increases in temperature (Al-Kubaisi & Gardi, 2012) and decreases in precipitation. Abbasa et al. (2016) further argue that this is an outcome of global warming that will cause significant water scarcity across the region. Iraq's Initial National Communication to the UNFCCC(2016) states that expected decrease in rainfall and the increase in droughts caused by climate change will have serious impacts on agriculture (e.g. inability to grow crops and food products), water sources (e.g. shortage of groundwater supply), biodiversity (e.g. extinction and migration of species) and health (e.g. increase in mortality and incidences of diseases such as allergy, asthma and heart attack).

Mental Health and Psychosocial Impacts of Climate Change and Extreme Weather Conditions

The climate changes gradually, taking dozens or hundreds of years, but its outcomes significantly affect people's quality of life (Trombley et al., 2017). Climate-related slow change of the environment (i.e., changes in usual weather or rising sea levels) lead to diverse psychological disorders and harmful behaviours including acute and chronic psychopathologic trauma and shock, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, substance or alcohol abuse, aggressiveness and violence, suicide, difficulties in social and interpersonal relationships, loss of personally important places, alteration of social ties, loss of autonomy, and control, as well as personal and professional identity, leading to the emergence of feelings of helplessness and fear, solastalgia, and eco-anxiety (APA 2017 as cited in Cianconi et al. 2020, p. 9). Factors influencing these disorders and socio-emotional disturbances include displacement and the feeling of loss of personal attachment to a place (also known as solastalgia), loss of livelihoods or disruptions to livelihood and land-based activities, stressors related to straining of social relations, and a diminished sense of self and increased vulnerability to stress (Stanke et al. 2012; Dodd et al. 2018; APA 2017).

Interviewing people affected by wildfires in Canada that are considered to be an outcome of high temperatures and extended drought conditions in the context of climate change, Dodd et al. (2018) found that feelings of fear, uncertainty, and anxiety tend to contribute to long-term negative impacts on mental health and psychosocial wellbeing which were manifested in behaviours as isolation and withdrawal from engaging in everyday activities and interaction with other community members. Further, climate change and climate-related disasters are found to be associated with PTSD, depression, and anxiety (Goldmann and Galea 2014; Fernandez et al. 2015; Caamano-Isorna et al. 2011). Findings of research conducted on the impacts of drought and floods in Australia and the UK, respectively, for example, present further evidence on the connection between natural disasters and psychological morbidity some of which persist for years (Higginbotham et al. 2006; Eisenman et al. 2005). It becomes difficult for people, in particular those who have a lower socioeconomic status, who are affected by long-term droughts and erratic rainfall, for instance, to regulate and adjust their emotions who then become vulnerable to mood disorders, helplessness, demoralization and passively resigning to fate (Gronlund et al. 2019; Cianconi et al. 2020).

Vida et al. (2012) found a link between high temperature and increased access to emergency mental health services for depression and suicidal ideation in Canada (Quebec). Cianconi et al. (2020) argue that although the association between high temperatures in heat waves and mental health issues is well established, existing research has found no significant association between the two. However, a recent study by Zhang et al. (2020) demonstrates that low temperatures are also important drivers of mental health issues and that lower temperatures exert larger effects on mental health than higher temperatures. Factors that influence the psychosocial and emotional wellbeing of individuals living in high and low temperatures include sleep disturbance, inability to concentrate, and exhaustion (Cianconi et al. 2020).

  Method Top

Participant Recruitment

The study sample consisted of internally displaced adult women and men staying at the Hassan Sham camp in the Ninewa governorate and located between Mosul and Erbil and Kabarto and Qadia camps in Duhok governorate (see [Table 1] for participant demographics). The participants' average length of stay at camps was around 2 years at Hassan Sham and 6 years in Duhok (Kabarto and Qadia) camps. The households in the camp were numbered and one adult member of every third household was asked to give consent and participate in the research. In case of rejection, the research team went to the next third household and made the same request until they reached at least 100 households, ensuring gender balance in each location.
Table 1. Descriptive Demographics of the Participants

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Table 2. Perceived causes of climate change

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Table 3. Observed significant climate-related changes

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Table 4. Actions to be taken to mitigate climate change impacts

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Participants were informed that they were free to opt in or out of the study at any point in time and about the purpose of the study before they agreed to join. Personally identifiable data (i.e. name, birthday, ID number, etc.) were not collected and the answers given by the respondents were anonymised so that they could not be linked to other data by anyone else. The study was internally reviewed by the IOM global MHPSS section and the relevant camp management authorities were involved in the conduct of the study.

Survey Tool

Data were collected by IOM MHPSS team members who are psychosocial workers and psychologists using a structured questionnaire including close-ended, open-ended, multiple choice and scaled questions measuring the participants' level of interest in climate, its impacts, how important it is to address climate change as a priority and what actions may be taken to mitigate its impacts. The participants were also asked how they have been influenced by extreme hot and extreme cold weather conditions. The assessment tool was developed using IOM global standards for psychosocial needs assessment and surveys in emergency and displacement settings (IOM, 2009) and the tool was piloted by MHPSS staff before the research started. The authors made minor revisions after piloting to further clarify some of the questions and add prompting notes for the enumerators. The tool was developed in English and translated into Arabic by the authors and a bilingual author conducted the back translation to ensure its accuracy. The MHPSS staff collected data in Arabic in one-on-one interviews using KoBo Toolbox, and each interview took around 50 minutes to complete. The answers to the open-ended questions were translated back to English.

Data Analysis

The qualitative data (answers to open-ended questions) were analysed through content analysis and based on the emerging themes related to the questions looking at the relationship between climate change, extreme weather conditions, and the mental health and psychosocial wellbeing components. The quantitative data was processed using SPSS and relevant non-parametric tests (i.e. Chi square) were conducted to examine the association between categorical variables. The reliability analysis on psychosocial wellbeing indicated that the questions reached acceptable reliability, α = .70 for extreme hot weather conditions and α = .80 for extreme cold weather conditions, respectively. Further, principal component analysis (PCA) was conducted on the clustered items with orthogonal rotation (direct oblimin). The analysis showed that both conditions yielded two factors explaining 60% of the variance with χ2 (15) = 210,919, p = .000 for the former, and 59% explained variance with χ2 (15) = 309,616, p = .000 for the latter.

  Results Top

The research questions focused on understanding the participants' interest in and knowledge of climate change, perceptions of its causes and effects and possible actions to mitigate its effects. Of total participants, 76% reported that they have heard about climate change and 87% noted that they are interested in climate change. According to the survey, gender and interest in climate change were significantly associated; male participants were more interested in climate change than female participants (χ2(4, N = 202) = 11.98, p = 0.017). The assessment also found that the main source of information about climate change is conventional media such as television or newspapers (46%) which is followed by social media platforms (21%) and internet blogs or scientific webpages (10%).

When asked about the causes of climate change, the participants indicated industrial fumes and waste (70%) as the primary cause of climate change, followed by transportation (i.e. vehicle exhaust; 64%), burning garbage (45%), cutting down forests or deforestation (40%), oil drilling (39%) and burning fossil fuels for heating and other usages (36%). Fifteen per cent of the participants marked “other” option and listed several causes which were related to deforestation, environmental pollution and lack of care for the environment and nature. Eleven participants reported that climate change is something about which only God2 might know the underlying causes. Other explanations included wars and explosions and excessive use of water resources. Two of the participants stated that human beings do not play a role in climate change. Another 10% of the participants reported that they do not know the causes of climate change.

The survey asked if the participants have observed any significant changes because of climate change in their local area. The majority of the participants (80%) noted that they observed such a change. A follow up question was asked to understand what the perceived changes are. The results revealed that less rainfall was the most commonly observed change among the participants (78%), followed by extreme hot or cold weather conditions (62%), health problems (e.g. respiratory or cardiovascular; 50%), dust storms (55%), recurrent droughts (45%), challenges in economy and livelihood resources (41%), desertification, salinisation of water and soils (35%), community tensions over access to water and food (30%), death of livestock (26%) and sociopolitical issues such as displacement (20%). In fact, these impacts are not solely due to global climate change but might be associated with local environmental degradation, which is a process of “deterioration in environmental quality from ambient concentrations of pollutants and other activities and processes such as improper land use and natural disasters” (UN 1997, p. 28).

The next question focused on understanding if climate change impacted the participants' life personally. The results demonstrated that 74% confidently said climate change affected their life, while 17% reported they were not sure whether they had experienced an impact of climate change. The definition of climate change was read to each participant during the data collection, but the following quotes indicate that their responses were more related to the impacts of weather variability or seasonality rather than climate change itself. They show the nature and scope of the impacts that they perceived to be associated with climate change:

“In 2017, I planted five tons of wheat and because of the drought and lack of rain I lost the crop and did not get the production, which affected me psychologically and increased the rate of thinking and fear of the future” – Male, 38, Hassan Sham.

“We live in a tent in the camp, and the very hot and cold weather is difficult for me and my children, especially as I am a physically disabled person” – Male, 35, Hassan Sham.

“In hot weather, I am not able to move, and I am just sitting down in front of air cooler. Psychologically I feel very bad when it is very warm” – Female, 18, Duhok.

“In very hot summer it affects my mental health and wellbeing. I become very aggressive and angry person” – Female, 30, Duhok.

“Because both [hot and cold] extreme weathers prevent us from practicing our daily life, it affects our sleep, and our mental health” – Male, 26, Duhok.

The last two questions looked at how important the participants think addressing climate change is and what actions are needed to mitigate climate change impacts. Accordingly, a significant percentage of the participants noted that it is important or very important (76%) to address climate change as a priority, 14% noted that it is neither important nor unimportant, and the rest (10%) said it is either unimportant or very unimportant. The following quotes allow us to see some of the diverse reasons of the participants as to why it is important to address climate change as a priority:

“Climate change greatly affects the lives of humans, animals, and plants. We are currently seeing an increase in aridity, desertification, urbanisation, and significant water pollution. Therefore, climate change is an important issue that must be reduced” – Male, 58, Hassan Sham.

“Agricultural land has become very little production, desertification has increased throughout Iraq, fear of burning tents and living with constant anxiety” – Male, 55, Hassan Sham.

“Because it has a direct effect on the psychological, physical, and economic aspects of our life” – Female, 30, Hassan Sham.

“Because it's important to make people aware of and find out what they can do and how to deal with climate change impacts” – Female, 24, Duhok.

As the following quotes indicate, those who believed that it is unimportant to address climate change mentioned either the challenging situations they are in as a result of forced displacement and conflict or the perceived inability to take an action:

“Because we live in a camp, I think our needs are more important to us than this subject [climate change]” – Male, 18, Hassan Sham.

“We are used to this climate, and the country is all wars, and I think that climate change is in the hands of God” – Female, 27, Hassan Sham.

“I think controlling climate change is difficult and beyond our control” – Male, 22, Hassan Sham.

Options given to the participants to indicate what actions may be taken to mitigate the impact of climate change were varied and highly policy-relevant. Accordingly, 71% of the participants selected introduction of laws and legislations to regulate fumes, exhaust and carbon footprint; 62% investing in water harvesting methods which supports farmers in cropping and water to animals; 37% the use of renewable energy in towns, cities and rural areas; 24% the use of recyclable materials and minimising the use of single use products; 6% eating fewer or smaller portions of meat, especially red meat. The participants who marked the “other” option noted that “cycling instead of driving cars”, “using solar energy for electricity”, “afforestation”, “keeping the environment clean” and “building factories out of the city” can help with mitigating climate change impacts.

A group of participants reported that human beings could not intervene because there is nothing to be carried out, while others stated that it is God who controls climate change, and the people cannot do anything about it as only God can:

“It's not in our hand so we cannot do anything” – Female, 20, Hassan Sham.

“We cannot change or affect the climate because it is in the hands of God” – Female, 52, Hassan Sham.

“The solutions are from almighty God” – Male, 28, Hassan Sham.

The research was also interested in finding out if there is any relationship between the participants' age, level of interest, level of education and importance they have given to addressing climate change a priority. The results show that age (r(200) = 0.17, p < 0.05), level of education (r(200) = 0.22, p < 0.01) and level of interest in climate change (r(200) = 0.41, p < 0.01) are positively correlated with importance attributed to addressing climate change. More specifically, as the participants' age, and level of education, and level of interest in climate change increase, the importance associated with addressing climate change as a priority increases.

Finally, significant differences were found in participants' responses to the impacts of extreme hot and extreme cold weather conditions based on the camp location. To understand this, a Chi-square test of independence was performed to examine the relation between camp location and the impacts of extreme weather conditions. The results revealed that significant differences are observed between those living in Hassan Sham and Duhok in their ability to concentrate on tasks (χ2(4, N = 202) = 32.62, p = 0.000), level of irritability (χ2(4, N = 202) = 16.88, p = 0.002), ability to socialise (χ2(4, N = 202) = 30.03, p = 0.000), level of anxiety (χ2(4, N = 202) = 18.29, p = 0.001), sleep levels (χ2(4, N = 202) = 29.69, p = 0.000) and mood status (χ2(4, N = 202) = 16.65, p = 0.002). This means that there is a statistically significant association between camp location and participants' ability to concentrate on tasks, to socialize, their sleep levels, their mood status, and their irritability. Those living in Hassan Sham reported their ability to concentrate on tasks, their ability to socialise, their sleep levels and their mood status markedly reduced, and their level of irritability markedly increased during extreme hot weather conditions than those living in Duhok. The same variables were tested for extreme cold weather conditions and the only significant difference found between the participants was concerning the level of irritability (χ2(4, N = 202) = 13.14, p = 0.011). The level of irritability was more likely to increase in extreme cold weather conditions among those living in Duhok than those living in Hassan Sham.

  Discussion Top

The IDPs in this study live in areas that have been critically affected by climate change and extreme hot and cold weather conditions. Therefore, their perceptions and observations of climate change and its impacts are essential to understand. This research explores how the issue of climate change is understood and seen by a vulnerable community encountering serious challenges due to displacement. The assessment findings reveal that a majority of the survey participants know about and are interested in climate change. They are aware of its impacts and have thought about some actions to mitigate them. The conventional media is still the most prevalent source of information, while social media and scientific websites are also used to access climate change information.

In line with existing studies (ESS, 2018), most participants believe that human activities (e.g. factories, cars, burning garbage, etc.) play a key role in climate change. A small proportion (5%) of the participants framed the emergence of climate change in a religious connotation. This means that contrary to some existing work (see, for example, Funk & Alper, 2015), belief systems are critical for some IDPs in Hassan Sham and Duhok in understanding the causes of climate change. Also, Jenkins et al. (2018, p. 102) argue that “religious interpretations of climate change arise from many traditions and include formal statements from authorities and institutions”. Given that religion is deeply intertwined in everyday life shaping identity, culture, and politics in Iraq, it may have been one of the critical factors leading to the religious interpretation of causes and outcomes of climate change for some participants. Also, similar to other contexts (Gronlund et al. 2019; Padhy et al. 2015), this seems to be demonstrated as passively resigning to fate, helplessness, and lack or limited acknowledgement of human agency among these participants.The majority of the IDPs surveyed in this study (n = 151, 74%) reported that climate change impacts their lives personally. The findings show that these impacts are diverse and related to weather conditions, health-related physical problems and socio-economic issues. This indicates that IDPs' climate change related negative experiences are multidimensional, interrelated and can be persistent under the current circumstances (APA, 2017). Participants indicated their struggle with climate-related challenges in the camps, compounding the challenges cause by displacement and restricted access to facilities outside the camps.

The study also shows that an important part of the participants believes in the power of political administration in mitigating climate change. As presented earlier, the participants noted that the introduction of laws and legislation to regulate fumes, exhaust and carbon footprint, development of alternative and environmentally more efficient agriculture and animal husbandry methods, and the use of renewable energies and recyclable materials. Interestingly, however, solutions the participants proposed do not relate to their situation in camps but are more related to global mitigation efforts than adaptation where they are. In other words, these are largely not solutions that actually work for them as IDPs in particular. A critical finding to be highlighted here is that only 6% of the participants considered eating fewer or smaller portions of meat, especially red meat, a potential action to mitigate climate change. It is now an established fact that greenhouse gases (e.g. CO2, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated) are the main drivers of climate change and raising livestock or animal farming is the biggest global source of methane. Despite that the majority of the participants did not see that a reduction in red meat consumption could be a potential action to mitigate climate change. One reason is that while the connection between rearing livestock in a conventional way and climate change (UNDP, 2021) is well established mainly due to deforestation to expand pastures, the connection between methane and animal farming is not well-known. Traditionally, livestock has constituted an integral part of farming system in Iraq, particularly in arid areas (FAO, n.d.). Also, although consumption of red meat has a cultural importance, as it occupies an essential place in traditional Iraqi meals served to show hospitality, (over)consumption of red meat is of less concern in Iraq's IDP settings.

The positive correlation between the level of education and level of interest in climate change and the importance associated with addressing climate change as a priority shows that the findings from IDP camps in Iraq are in line with the global tendencies (UNDP, 2021). More specifically, as the level of educational attainment and level of interest in climate change among the participants increase, the support for urgently addressing climate change increases too. The level of knowledge respondents have about factors leading to or influencing climate change explains this, especially as a result of either their educational background or personal interest in climate change and its effects.

The age factor in this study is opposite to that of global attitudes (UNDP, 2021). As the age of the participants increases, support for urgently addressing climate change increases. This may be associated with the long-term common lived experiences that allow older participants to observe and understand better the impacts of climate change in their personal life and in terms of changes related to climate over their lifespan.

Weather conditions influence people's daily lives depending on where they live and how strongly they experience the impacts of climate change. Accordingly, this study found that the psychosocial wellbeing of the participants living in Hassan Sham is significantly more influenced by extreme hot weather conditions than those living in Duhok. As noted earlier, Hassan Sham is located in the plains of the governorate of Ninewa, one of the most drought and heatwave-affected areas in Iraq where the temperature in summers can go as high as 50oC. There are no water resources or green areas around the camp that could lessen the influence of summer heat waves and droughts. Those living in the camp use air coolers with limited power supply.

Duhok, on the other hand, is a mountainous area where the temperature during the summers is not as high as in Hassan Sham. The province has a dam in the city centre which increases the level of humidity and small green areas in and around the city centre. During extreme cold weather conditions, however, significant differences between the participants living in Hassan Sham and Duhok were found in relation to the level of irritability. Given that the latter group's level of irritability was markedly increased during the extreme cold weather conditions indicates that the low temperatures in winters in Duhok can significantly impact the psychosocial wellbeing of the IDPs.

The study did not find any significant differences between male and female participants in their responses to the impacts of climate change or extreme weather conditions. The only difference between the two groups was related to the level of interest in climate change. Level of interest in climate change was higher among male participants than female participants. The level of education and literacy is a significant predictor for this outcome, as overall male participants had a higher level of educational attainment than the female participants.

  Policy Recommendations Top

The findings of this research allow to make some policy-relevant recommendations to enhance not only the psychosocial wellbeing of the IDPs in Hassan Sham, Duhok and in other locations across Iraq, but also support government authorities, national and local policy makers and humanitarian organisations in responding better to the needs of the affected population associated with consequences of climate change.

To begin with, the study suggests that the governmental authorities and humanitarian organisations need to regularly inform the community in an effective way about the causes and consequences of climate change and what kind of impacts changes in climate can have on different aspects of individuals' daily life. This can be done through the active utilisation of traditional and social media (Mavrodieva et al., 2019), information campaigns (Raducu et al., 2020), awareness sessions (Khatibi et al., 2021), the development of specific social activities and programmes, and the inclusion of community members in decision-making and interventions. Offering relevant courses and programmes in schools and universities will also significantly contribute to conveying information on disasters and climate change. This will allow the community members to make a better connection between the physical and psychosocial challenges they experience and take more realistic actions in their lives and local contexts to protect their overall wellbeing against the consequences of climate change and also to contribute to mitigation efforts.

Second, the government authorities in Iraq should urgently take the necessary measures in rural and urban settings to introduce new laws and reform existing ones concerning the protection of natural life, develop and activate sustainable and more efficient (e.g. using less resources) agriculture, water and livestock systems and establish coordination with local and international stakeholders to support community members, particularly IDPs, in their struggle against the extreme hot and extreme cold weather conditions. Examples of this include construction of shelters for protection against extreme weather conditions, greening of camp areas and increasing access to water. Investing in and mainstreaming the establishment of systems that prioritise the use of renewable energy and recycled materials and encouraging the citizens to use them in rural and urban settings will also help with mitigating climate change.

As this study exemplifies, extreme weather conditions across Iraq significantly influence people's psychosocial wellbeing, particularly the wellbeing of IDPs who have restricted and regulated access to facilities outside of the camps. Therefore, humanitarian organisations that support and work with IDPs need to diversify their interventions taking into consideration the impacts of extreme hot and cold weather conditions, and the impacts of such weather on the individuals' ability to concentrate, socialise, level of anxiety, sleep, irritability and mood. In other words, as the impacts of climate change are both observed and experienced now more than ever, future humanitarian interventions need to focus on multiple aspects of individual and collective circumstances that are impacted by climate change. Programming should develop interventions that will empower people in need and ensure any intervention is conducted under safe and healthy conditions that will facilitate the positive participation of the affected population and contribute to their overall wellbeing.

  Conclusion Top

This study was interested in understanding the perceptions of climate change, its causes and impacts on everyday life, and what needs to be done to mitigate these impacts among a sample of internally displaced people living in camps in Iraq. The research showed that climate change adds to the vulnerability of the IDPs who have been displaced due to protracted conflicts across the country. The mental health and psychosocial challenges they experience indicate the need for developing more comprehensive programmes and projects to address climate change impacts in IDP camps. Further, additional research that examines the relationship between mental health and psychosocial wellbeing and climate change in both camp and non-camp settings is needed to develop a more robust insight across different settings and contexts.


The authors acknowledge the general support and internal review of the report by Guglielmo Schininà, Head of IOM's Mental Health, Psychosocial Response and Intercultural Communication Global section, Lorenzo Guadago, Programme Manager, Migrants in Countries in Crisis and IOM Iraq Peacebuilding and Stabilisation Division (PSD) and Siobhan Simojoki, Head of the division and the MHPSS team.

Financial support and sponsorship

The Mental Health and Psychosocial Support activities by IOM Iraq in the two camps where this survey was conducted are funded by the German Federal Foreign Officer (GFFO) and the Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance (BHA), USAID.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

1United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

2The participants used the word Allah which translates to 'God' in Arabic.

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  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4]


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