The UN refugee agency has launched one of its largest humanitarian aid pushes in response to the deteriorating situation in Iraq, aiming to help close to a half million people who had been forced to flee their homes by the Islamic State militants.
An air, road and sea operation will begin on Wednesday with a four-day airlift from Aqaba in Jordan to Erbil in Iraq, followed by road convoys from Turkey and Jordan, and sea and land shipments from Dubai via Iran over the next 10 days.
“The major focus is on improving living conditions for the displaced in the region, particularly people without shelter or housing,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Adrian Edwards said in a statement.
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“Conditions remain desperate for those without access to suitable shelter, people struggling to find food and water to feed their families, and those without access to primary medical care,” Edwards said, adding that many are still coming to grips with tragedies of fleeing their homes and coping with the loss of loved ones.
“Emergency support is an urgent need that we are trying to meet,” he said.
The initial aid shipments include 3,300 tents, 20,000 plastic sheets, 18,500 kitchen sets, and 16,500 jerry cans.
The assistance and further aid deliveries is being made possible due to a recent USD 500 million donation from Saudi Arabia, as well as support from the US, the UK, Japan, Kuwait, Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and global retailer IKEA.
Meanwhile, inside Iraq, UNHCR is working closely with regional authorities in the Kurdistan Region, where at least half the displaced have settled, about 200,000 of them since early August when the city of Sinjar and neighbouring areas were seized by armed groups.
The Saudi contribution has also enabled the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to scale up food assistance to hundreds of thousands of Iraqis displaced from their homes.
“The food security situation in Iraq is alarming – the worst that the country has witnessed since the sanctions in the early 1990s,” Mohamed Diab, Director of WFP’s Regional Bureau for the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and Eastern Europe, said in a news release.
“The breakdown of the Public Distribution System for food in many parts of Iraq, the destruction and confiscation of agricultural produce, widespread insecurity and massive displacement of civilians have resulted in immense hardship and untold human suffering,” he added.
An estimated 1.2 million Iraqis have been displaced so far in 2014, including some 600,000 people uprooted by the Anbar province crisis which began in January, and 600,000 displaced from conflicts in and around Mosul and more recently Sinjar, since August.