More than 50 Handicap International staff members are preparing to provide immediate assistance to people displaced by the conflict in Mosul, Iraq. More than 22,000 people have already fled the violence since the start of military operations on October 17. As many as one million people may be displaced by the fighting, according to the United Nations—to a landscape riddled with explosive remnants of war.
As the total number of people displaced by the war in Iraq reaches more than 3.3 million, this conflict risks causing a humanitarian crisis on an unprecedented scale—even the worst crisis of 2016.
“It’s a really worrying situation,” explains Fanny Mraz, Handicap International’s head of mission in Iraq. “Population movements are expected to intensify over the next few days. More than 200,000 people will be displaced from Mosul and the surrounding area over the coming weeks, and perhaps more than one million in the worst-case scenario."
"People are starting to flee in total disarray, without access to food, care, or shelter. They have had to leave everything behind, and often arrive in places where the population is already particularly vulnerable.”
To respond to this imminent disaster, Handicap International teams in Iraq and abroad are preparing to provide rehabilitation care, psychosocial support, and lessons about how to stay safe amid dangerous levels of unexploded ordnance including improvised explosive devices and explosive remnants of war.
“Improvised explosive devices and explosive remnants of war are scattered across the conflict zones in Iraq,” Mraz adds. “Civilians, but also the humanitarian staff who are helping them, may be exposed to this threat. In a country as contaminated as Iraq, it’s essential that everyone is aware of these risks” and knows how to spot, avoid, and tell authorities about the suspect objects they find.
Four mine/explosive remnants of war risk education teams, four psychosocial support teams—including four psychologists to care for the worst trauma cases—and three rehabilitation teams will be deployed to villages and camps for displaced people on the outskirts of Mosul. More than 22,000 people have already fled the violence in Mosul.
Handicap International will also provide assistance to people who have stayed behind in their villages during the conflict. Humanitarian actors now have access to some of those villages, and since basic services are no longer available, the needs in these newly accessible villages are great. People there are also vulnerable to the risk of accidents due to the significant presence of explosive devices left behind by the fighting.
Teams will pay particularly close attention to the accessibility of accommodation for displaced people. “We need to make sure people with disabilities are not forgotten in the emergency response,” she adds. “They must have the same access to humanitarian services as other civilians fleeing violence.”
Handicap International will also inform other humanitarian organizations of the need to take vulnerable people—people with disabilities, injured people, older people—into account in their actions.
Handicap International and the Iraqi crisis: More than 125,000 people have benefited from Handicap International’s actions since the organization launched its emergency operations in Iraq in 2014. (Handicap International has run other projects in Iraq since 1991.) The organization’s actions are regularly reviewed to take into account a highly volatile situation across the whole of the 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, and others 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.