Iraq: Fleeing Conflict In North, Families Face Harsh Conditions

Zakaria, an orphan living with his grandmother, is one of many children and vulnerable families who are receiving food assistance from WFP at Kalak camp. Many of the displaced families have said they wish to stay in the Kurdistan region of Iraq until the situation in their home cities becomes safe again. 

WFP is in emergency mode in northern Iraq as it goes about organizing a food assistance operation for half a million people hit by the latest conflict there. Ertharin Cousin travelled to the region this week to see the impact of this new humanitarian crisis first-hand. She found some displaced families living in extremely harsh conditions and highlighted the need for international support.

ERBIL, Iraq – WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin has just ended a two-day visit to Iraq where she met families who have fled from the violence in Mosul and also had high-level talks with the Kurdistan Regional Government and other officials.

“Yet again, another humanitarian crisis hits war-torn Iraq, disproportionately and negatively impacting the hungry poor. The most vulnerable and poorest families have already experienced their share of tragedy over the last few years,” said Cousin. “Many are displaced in very harsh conditions. Lack of services, support and insecurity is forcing them to move around – in too many cases making these families difficult to reach.”

Cousin stopped at the Kalak transit camp – between Mosul and Erbil – and met displaced people who fled the recent fighting in Mosul. Families sat in newly erected tents and makeshift shelters in 45 degrees Celsius heat. They told her that they left their homes with only the clothes on their backs.

“Only the strong and lucky, who could walk for hours in this scorching heat or those who have the means to travel by car arrived here at the transit camp,” said Cousin. Among them was a man from Mosul, who told her he was worried he would not be able to fast during the upcoming Holy Month of Ramadan in harsh conditions with little access to water, electricity and other necessities. 

Growing needs

“The UN and the entire humanitarian community are surging staff, releasing funds and drawing on all available stocks to assist people affected by the fighting and meet the urgent growing needs,” Cousin added.

WFP has launched an emergency operation to feed more than half a million people hit by the latest conflict in Iraq. But there are challenges both in terms of security and funding.

Before the new wave of displacements, starting with the violence in Mosul, WFP had already been assisting 240,000 people displaced by conflict in Iraq’s al-Anbar Governorate, as well as more than 100,000 refugees from the conflict in Syria who sought refuge in Iraq.

WFP, which is funded entirely by voluntary donations, needs $US88 million for its operations in Iraq from July to December 2014.