Iraq: Desperate need for protection, shelter, food and health care

14 August, 2014
August 2014, Dahuk, Iraq: These people escaped Sinjar Mountain, making their way the Iraq's Kurdish region where authorities and aid groups are scaling-up their response efforts. Credit: UNICEF/Wathiq Khuzaie
August 2014, Dahuk, Iraq: These people escaped Sinjar Mountain, making their way the Iraq's Kurdish region where authorities and aid groups are scaling-up their response efforts. Credit: UNICEF/Wathiq Khuzaie

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, including protection, shelter, food and health care, according to a senior OCHA official who is on the ground in northern Iraq.

Speaking over the phone to a UN press briefing in New York, Kieran Dwyer, OCHA’s Director of Communications, said that more than 1.2 million people have been displaced since the beginning of the year. He warned also that aid groups still held serious concerns for thousands of people trapped on Mount Sinjar.

“We are trying to assess as best we can the situation in the mountain,” said Mr. Dwyer, speaking from Dahuk Governorate, on far north Iraq’s border with Turkey and Syria. “Protection [for those] still stranded is a key issue, and we know that airdrops have been keeping them alive.”

“Thousands” remain on the mountain

On 3 August, tens of thousands of ethnic Yazidis from the city of Sinjar fled their homes to Mount Sinjar to escape advancing forces of the Islamic State. In recent days, thousands of people have managed to leave the mountain, with most crossing the border into Syria before crossing back into Iraq at the Peshkhabour border crossing.

However, aid groups estimate that “thousands” of people still remain on the mountain, though accurate estimates are difficult to come by. “The crisis on the mountain is not over until [all] people have been able to make it to a safe location, in a safe and secure manner,” OCHA’s Dwyer said.

Protection, shelter, food and health care are priorities

Upon arriving in Dahuk, people are welcomed by local authorities and aid groups that are rapidly scaling up their response to the crisis. There are urgent needs for shelter, food and health care, said Dwyer.

“This is a terribly harsh environment -- for any child or elderly, these are very difficult conditions,” he said. “At a camp where I was today, UNHCR (the UN’s Refugee Agency) is putting up tents. Water and sanitation programmes are coming [online].

“WFP (the World Food Programme) and partners are doing a great job feeding over 100,000 people every day. We are scaling up but it is a major strain on everyone. It remains a huge humanitarian emergency.”

Communities and donors praised

Dwyer highlighted the generosity of Kurdish authorities and communities. According to UNHCR, an estimated 700,000 displaced people have found refuge in the Kurdistan region – including about 400,000 in the Dahuk Governorate alone.

“The support of the international community is crucial,” he said. “Local authorities and communities are welcoming and doing a great job, but they are stretched to their limit.”

“Our donors’ support, especially from the Saudi government, has made a huge contribution. But more assistance will be needed on the long run.”

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