The United Nations claimed on Thursday, May 18th that up to 200,000 civilians in Mosul, Iraq are expected to flee as Iraqi forces push into it’s Old City district to battle ISIS. In a press release from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Lise Grande, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, stated “The numbers of people who are moving are now so large, it’s becoming more and more difficult to ensure civilians receive the assistance and protection they need.” Aid agencies and authorities in Iraq are struggling to deal with current conditions, as pressure is building on aid resources with the increasing displacement of the population.
The majority of those leaving Mosul are fleeing to displacement camps in Northern Iraq, whilst others have sought refuge with relatives in other cities or left the country altogether. Grande underlined the difficult circumstances for families “leaving everything behind,” as “many are food insecure and haven’t had access to safe drinking water and medicines for weeks or months.” The vast displacement of civilians has also impacted on Iraqi operations, as Brigadier-General Ali al-Sharifi, from the Federal Police forces, told Reuters “We didn’t expect such a flux of thousands of families fleeing toward our forces. We slowed clashes to give them safe routes and we had to prepare hundreds of trucks to evacuate them.”
It is clear that increased international humanitarian assistance is especially crucial to support the population remaining in Mosul and those fleeing the conflict. The OCHA is supporting humanitarian operations in Iraq through its 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan for Iraq, to provide strategic humanitarian planning for the crisis. The plan has requested US$985 million, with $331 million dedicated to the Mosul operation, but has currently only received 28% of funds. Stronger support and funding for the aid effort in Mosul is required in order to address the developing state of affairs.
Iraqi forces, as part of a US-led coalition, launched the campaign against ISIS in Mosul in October 2016. The ongoing conflict has subsequently resulted in around 678,000 people fleeing the city. Since the recapture of the city’s east, earlier this year, fighting has been focused in the western districts where ISIS fighters have been embedded within the homes of civilians. They have pushed the group to 12 square kilometres within Mosul’s Old City, an area consisting of compact and narrow streets which are hard to infiltrate with armoured vehicles. The forces are hoping to dislodge the ISIS stronghold entirely within less than two weeks, before the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan.
Once the battle for Mosul concludes, aid agencies and Iraqi authorities will face an even greater task of responding to the humanitarian crisis. The OCHA has stated that daily life in Mosul remains a challenge as water is scarce and civilians have resorted to “drinking from unsafe, untreated water sources.” This presents a growing concern for the coming months as the summer will bring sweltering temperatures between 40°C and 50°C. As Grande further noted “We have no choice – we have to re-double our efforts to mobilize more resources and get assistance to the people who need it the most.” Immediate action is vital, as funding and humanitarian support must be boosted to provide aid to the hundreds of thousands of lives at stake.