Copyright: WFP/Mohammed AlBahbahni
Since violence erupted across Northern Iraq, causing massive displacements in mid-June from Mosul and surrounding towns and villages, the situation has deteriorated rapidly. Conflict and political instability have forced 1.2 million people from their homes. Cars, packed with children, have been fleeing into the Kurdish region, where hundreds of thousands of people are already sheltering.
By Adair Ackley
Many minorities have suffered at the hands of militants. The plight of the Yazidis, in particular, captured the world’s attention as they were besieged on a harsh mountain without food, water or shelter - many enduring terrible conditions for up to nine days. Although thousands escaped Mount Sinjar, an unknown number of people are feared to have died.
My WFP colleagues have been helping many of the survivors in the northern governorate of Dahuk. In partnership with a local NGO, the Barzani Charity Foundation, WFP quickly set up field kitchens, providing hot meals each day to more than 100,000 displaced people. This vital sustenance, given to all those in need - Christians and Muslims alike - was made possible through the generous and large contribution in July from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which has been a strong supporter of WFP’s emergency operation in Iraq.
Shariya town, in the southern part of Dahuk, has become a centre for the displaced. I visited Shariya a few days after the violence broke out in Sinjar. We had to pass through large crowds of desperate people, who were stopping traffic to protest about their situation.
For me, WFP’s response seemed exactly right. Since families have been arriving with nothing - without any cooking utensils, let alone food - these hot meals have provided them with food on the spot.
In Shariya, I met 28-year-old Samih, a carpenter and blacksmith from Sinjar. Threatened by the violence, Samih was forced to flee, leaving his mother, sisters, brothers and extended family behind. He has no idea where they are, or what has happened to them, and I could see the anger and frustration on his face.
The turmoil has also affected education. A pharmacy student named Ayob told me that all he wanted was peace, so he could go back to university and complete his degree. Many Iraqi teachers have been affected by displacement, and thousands of schools have become shelters and dormitories, resulting in an extension of the long summer break for primary school children.
In the face of such suffering, especially among the vulnerable and young, WFP has rolled out a special type of assistance for children in Dahuk - A29 energy bars - which provide a nutritious boost for children aged between 6–36 months. The mothers to whom I helped distribute the bars were glad to receive the extra support. Amid all the uncertainty, there is little doubt that needs are likely to grow in the coming months.