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Iraq: Floods leave hundreds of families strained in Sinjar Mountain

23 May 2018


The humanitarian situation in Iraq is becoming a protracted displacement scenario that could remain unresolved for years. But it comes at a time when urgently needed humanitarian assistance in the country is threatened by a severe lack of funding. As of mid-May, the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan—a blueprint for humanitarian activities in Iraq—is less than 20 per cent funded.

Unusually cold weather and heavy rain in early May have left over 1,400 displaced families living in makeshift tents in Dahuk and northern Ninewa governorates, and with no food supplies. Floods washed away their personal belongings, and they were forced to move to relatives’ tents in nearby areas.

Particularly at risk are some 720 displaced Yazidi families who have been living in makeshift tents on Sinjar Mountain for the past four years. About 220 of these families lost their tents, food supplies and other personal belongings due to the floods.

The delivery of much-needed assistance to Sinjar Mountain was hampered by its geographical remoteness and the limited presence of humanitarian partners. And due to restrictions imposed by authorities during the May parliamentary election period, humanitarian partners were unable to access this area for days.

Once those restrictions were lifted, operations finally resumed, and the distribution of food parcels, blankets and basic hygiene items gave people a glimpse of hope and dignity. On 17 May, a joint UN assessment mission reached people living on the mountain to assess response gaps and priority areas. Replacing destroyed tents and repairing damaged water pumps are now key priorities, and humanitarian partners continue to monitor response efforts.

Four years of precarious living conditions in the mountains

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) took over the Sinjar region in August 2014, forcing an estimated 50,000 people, mainly Yazidis, to seek refuge on Sinjar Mountain. ISIL was defeated in November 2015, and the roads in the area were secure again, allowing humanitarian partners to reach the mountains with vital humanitarian assistance. Since then, some 12,500 members of the ancient Yazidi religious minority have continued to live on Sinjar Mountain, the majority in makeshift tents erected in 2016. Most of these tents urgently need to be repaired or replaced due to extreme weather conditions. Like displaced people in Sinjar city, these families rely on humanitarian assistance to survive.

Unable to return home

Despite ISIL no longer being a threat in the Sinjar area, people cannot return home due to insecurity and lack of economic prospects, or because their homes were destroyed. But due to the severe lack of funding for the Humanitarian Response Plan, humanitarian partners often cannot provide the most basic assistance, including food and shelter, which many of these displaced families depend on. Any unforeseen natural disasters, such as the recent floods, put additional strain on partners’ ability to provide timely and desperately needed assistance to the most vulnerable families.

Photos: OCHA/Manja Vidic