Children play at the Khazer camp in Iraq.
Six months ago, the Iraqi city of Mosul became a battleground. As of March 17, several hundreds of thousands civilians are trapped within the city and hundreds of thousands more have escaped. In one month alone, more than 75,000 people managed to flee. “Since February, humanitarian needs have increased tremendously,” explains Maud Bellon, Handicap International’s emergency response coordinator. “As fighting reaches the most heavily populated areas of the city, population movements increase.”
Sharp rise in casualties
“Although people living in the city face a high level of risk, it’s also very dangerous to flee,” Maud continues. “Since the start of the operation in western Mosul, several hundred people have received care and treatment close to the front lines for injuries sustained in the conflict. Many were struck as they tried to leave the city.”
Harsh living conditions in Mosul
An estimated 750,000 people are still trapped inside Mosul, where the humanitarian situation is extremely critical. “Many civilians who managed to flee, talk of disastrous conditions in the city, including serious shortages of food, gas, drinking water, and health services,” adds the organization’s coordinator. “We’re particularly worried about the state of the city’s residents, of whom we can’t access while the fighting continues.”
Serious threats for returnees
Another source of concern is the number of families returning to their hometown or village once the fighting ends. “Over 300,000 people have fled Mosul since last October, but nearly 70,000 of them have already returned home," Maud concludes. "The streets and abandoned houses not destroyed in the fighting are littered with explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices. It is still very dangerous."
Handicap International's response
In recent weeks, Handicap International has stepped up its risk education activities to ensure civilians know how to spot, avoid, and report the landmines, improvised explosive devices, and other explosive devices they come across when returning home. Our teams are also assisting victims in displacement areas and hospitals, providing physical therapy and psychological support.
Mosul emergency response
In recent years, the fighting between armed groups and government forces in Iraq has led to the displacement of over 3.3 million people, with an estimated 11 million requiring humanitarian assistance throughout Iraq. The Mosul offensive will constitute an unprecedented challenge for international organizations. As a worst-case scenario, this military operation could result in the largest humanitarian crisis of 2016-2017 and the displacement of one million people, according to the United Nations. Over the last six months, more than 300,000 people have fled the city.
Handicap International and the Iraqi crisis
Handicap International has helped more than 125,000 people since launching its emergency response in 2014. (Handicap International has run other projects in Iraq since 1991.) The organization regularly reviews its actions to account for a highly volatile situation across the entire country. Current activities protect people by raising awareness of the risk from mines and conventional weapons. Teams conduct non-technical studies and clear potentially dangerous areas. Other staff provide physical and functional rehabilitation and psychosocial support, support to health centers, training and advocacy on the inclusion of people with disabilities, and technical support to partners to enhance the inclusion of vulnerable people in their services.