One million people fled the fighting in the aftermath of the Battle of Mosul, which ended in July 2017. Some 500,000 are still living in camps for displaced people across Nineveh province. According to the United Nations, two million people need humanitarian assistance.
"Families still living in the camps are unable or unwilling to return home for several reasons,” explains Stéphane Senia, HI’s head of mission in Iraq. “They fear for their safety in this region controlled by a multitude of armed groups. They are afraid of the explosive remnants of war contaminating Mosul and surrounding villages. They often have nowhere to go because their neighborhood has been completely destroyed and its social and economic life no longer exists.”
Destroyed homes, hospitals, schools, and roads
In Mosul, 65% of houses and apartments have been damaged, according to the United Nations. Although life has resumed in the eastern half of the city, the western half—where most of the fighting took place—remains heavily contaminated by explosive remnants of war and improvised mines. Vital infrastructure such as schools and hospitals have been destroyed. Roads and bridges are still impassable.
"The western half of the city has been almost abandoned due to a lack of resources and political inability to organize weapons clearance and rebuild the city,” adds Stéphane. “In the short term, there is no prospect of things improving. The western districts are likely to remain as they are for several years."
“The level of contamination is still unbelievably high in Mosul and the surrounding region.”
“Many families returning to Mosul won’t have any experience of explosive remnants of war and booby traps in particular. Residents are forced to take risks because they have no other choice. The western half of the city is so contaminated it’s like a minefield under the rubble.”
Humanity & Inclusion’s teams are working across nine camps—reaching 120,000 people—to ensure that people understand the dangers of explosive remnants of war, so that when they return to their homes, they can do so in safety. “They will travel throughout the city and get people to think about what a suspicious device looks like, what the risks are, and what to do if they find one. The goal is to reduce the number of accidents, which remains significant, two years after the fighting.”
An unofficial evaluation by iMMAP found an average of 40 weekly explosive incidents across the country at the end of February.
Major rehabilitation needs
Since July 2017, Humanity & Inclusion has been providing rehabilitation care and psychological support in two hospitals run by Doctors Without Borders—the first in Mosul itself—and the second near the village of Qayara. We also set up rehabilitation care and psychosocial support reception points across the nine camps. Since launching this support, our teams have provided rehabilitation care to 2,500 displaced Iraqis. But the needs remains high.
"We have to put people on a waiting list for rehabilitation care because the demand is so high and our response capacities are limited due to the disengagement of emergency funding bodies," Stéphane adds. We provide care to improve the mobility of patients and ensure that they can do everyday activities such as getting out of bed, going to the toilet, etc. as autonomously as possible. We also provide them with psychological counseling because many of them have anxiety or depression. We help many people who are totally lost and don't know what their future will be like." Since the summer of 2017, Humanity & Inclusion has provided psychosocial support to 1,500 people.
On July 10, 2017, Iraqi armed forces retook Mosul. Two years later, the abandoned, western-half of the city lies in ruin, contaminated by thousands of explosive remnants of war. Nearly 500,000 people are still displaced in camps and the lives of thousands of injured people depend on access to appropriate care. Humanity & Inclusion is calling on the international community to respond to this humanitarian tragedy to ensure that its victims are not forgotten, and that explosive weapons will no longer be used in cities.
"The situation in the camps is very worrying,” explains Thomas Hugonnier, Director of Humanity & Inclusion in the Middle East. “It’s been two years, and people still only have the bare minimum to drink, eat, and survive. The lack of hope in the future and their trauma is going to haunt them for generations.”
Thousands of victims are still awaiting treatment. “There’s a lot of demand and we lack the funding to provide an adequate response, so our waiting lists are growing longer and longer," says Hugonnier. “Some patients have been waiting for a prosthesis for more than a year. Due to a shortage of resources, we provide them with emergency care to improve their mobility and make sure they can go about their daily lives as independently as possible. But it’s a totally unacceptable situation.”
Life has resumed in the eastern half of Mosul. However, the city's western half, where the bulk of the fighting took place, remains heavily contaminated by explosive remnants of war and improvised landmines. Sixty-five percent of homes have been damaged. The extensive use of explosive weapons has destroyed vital infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals. Roads and bridges remain impassable.
Some 1,500 explosive remnants of war have been found in Al-Shifa hospital alone.
"The western half of the city has been almost abandoned due to a lack of resources and a political incapacity to organize weapons clearance and rebuild the city," adds Hugonnier. "In the short term, there is no prospect of things improving.” As large numbers of people continue returning to highly contaminated areas, there is an urgent need to raise their awareness. “The people who live here are unaware of the dangers. Until the weapons are cleared, our job is to inform them as best we can about the threat from explosive remnants of war, how to recognize them and what to do if they find one."
As Humanity & Inclusion has witnessed the dramatic consequences of the bombing of towns and cities such as Mosul, the organization is urging all States to work on the political and practical solution to prevent the harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
"We can’t go on tinkering around the edges with a humanitarian response that in no way meets people’s needs," says Hugonnier. "The international community must take action, because it has a major responsibility for the extent of the damage caused.”
A group of States will gather in Vienna for a high-level conference in October 2019. Their goal? To draft an international political declaration to protect civilians in urban warfare. This historical diplomatic process is the only way to ensure an effective protection of civilians from the use of explosive weapons, as 90% of victims of explosive weapons in populated areas are civilians.
One year after Mosul’s liberation, eight million tons of conflict debris, littered with explosive remnants of war, still contaminate the city, and thousands of injured people are trying to access medical treatment. Meanwhile, more than 300,000 displaced people are still surviving in camps and communities as Mosul, littered with explosive remnants of war, remains a ticking time bomb. Humanity & Inclusion (the new name of Handicap International), released a fact sheet about the situation in Mosul. Download it here.
Between October 2016 and July 2017, 1,717 airstrikes and 2,867 explosive hazard incidents hit the city of Mosul, leaving behind an unprecedented amount of explosive remnants of war. Added to this are the thousands of victim-activated improvised explosive devices left as traps by the Islamic State group. In Al-Shifa hospital alone, mine actors found 1,500 explosive remnants of war. Even today, accidents are numerous and whole areas of the city remain inaccessible due to heavy contamination. Since July 10, 2017, Humanity & Inclusion received reports of 127 accidents involving 186 casualties in Nineveh province. This figure is likely higher, as the exact the number of casualties is uncertain.
The consequences for civilians are serious: death, severe injuries, permanent impairments, including a high number of amputations of upper and lower limbs. Between July 10, 2017 and March 15, 2018, Humanity & Inclusion provided rehabilitation services to 1,225 people. Among them, 34% were injured in the conflict, and out of these people 86% were injured by explosive weapons.
The massive presence of explosive remnants in the city prevents people from returning to normal life after years of trauma. As of May 15, 2018, 57% of displaced persons from the Nineveh district did not plan to return to their homes. Among them, 22% cite the presence of victim-activated IEDs and explosive remnants as a reason for non-return.
Years to rebuild and clear
Humanity & Inclusion is calling on the international community to face up to its responsibilities. The disproportion of the attacks carried out, and the size of the remaining threat posed by victim-activated IEDs and explosive remnants make Mosul one of the most contaminated cities in the world.
"The urgent need is to clear contaminated areas, raise awareness of the dangers of explosive remnants and to ensure assistance to the casualties, survivors and indirect victims,” says Thomas Hugonnier, who leads Humanity & Inclusion’s mine action operations. "On the ground, we are operational, but the challenge now is for States to support demining operations in the long term. The international community must do everything in its power to remove the obstacles preventing the people of Mosul from returning to a normal life.”
Humanity & Inclusion in Iraq
HI has been present in Iraq for 25 years. Since 2014, teams have been working alongside displaced people near the conflict zones. The NGO supports injured people and the most vulnerable, provides mine risk education sessions to communities, and demines the areas hardest hit by explosive remnants of war.
NOTE TO EDITORS
Interviews available with Thomas Hugonnier, head of mine action operations at HI
About Humanity & Inclusion
Humanity & Inclusion (the new name of Handicap International) is an independent charity working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster. We work tirelessly alongside disabled and vulnerable people to help meet their basic needs, improve their living conditions and promote respect for their dignity and fundamental rights.
Since its creation in 1982, HI has set up development programs in more than 60 countries and intervenes in numerous emergency situations. The network of 8 national associations (Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States) works constantly to mobilize resources, co-manage projects and promote the principles and actions of the organization. Humanity & inclusion is one of the six founding associations of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), co-winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize and winner of the 2011 Conrad N. Hilton Prize.
 UN Habitat and the United Nations Environment Programme
 Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)
 United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS)
 These injuries include bullet wounds, explosive weapons and other forms of violence (including torture), and injuries caused by events related to the crisis
 REACH, CCCM cluster, Iraq: Camps Intentions Survey Round 2 National Level, January 2018
Last June, 11-year-old Omar had his left leg amputated after being injured in a bomb attack in Mosul. Today, he receives rehabilitation care from Handicap International at the Muharibeen Hospital in Iraq.Read more
Eleven-year-old Fetyan was out buying ice-cream with his cousin when he was caught in the middle of a terrorist attack. “It happened on June 23 at precisely 9:30pm,” Mohammad says of the day his son was injured in Mosul. “First, two suicide bombers blew themselves up in the street. Fetyan, his cousin, and the other customers managed to take shelter in the basement of the ice-cream shop. But then a third suicide bomber appeared and ran toward them. He blew himself up just next to my son.”Read more
The bombing of civilians in urban areas is commonplace in present-day conflicts. Bombing not only kills and maims civilians, it destroys entire neighborhoods. The bombing of homes has a terrible impact on civilians including forced displacement, extreme hardship for families, and the contamination of affected areas.Read more
“My whole family was sitting on the roof of our building when suddenly the bombs started falling," Raneen explains. "I remember seeing my body riddled with shrapnel and my leg covered in blood. Out of my family, I had the worst injuries.”Read more
“The missiles began to fall in Mosul and I immediately passed out," Salah says of the day his world changed. "I woke up in the hospital. They told me I had shrapnel in my spine and might never walk again. They also told me that my eight-year-old daughter died the same day.” Salah’s eyes starts to tear up.
Now living in Hasansham camp in Iraq, Salah receives rehabilitation care from our team. The temperature at the camp fluctuates between 104 and 122 degrees Fahrenheit, making Salah very tired. “It’s so hot here, we can’t stay cooped up inside," he says while tapping his leg with a small wooden spoon. “Since my accident, this spoon has been my best friend. I never let it out of my sight." Salah uses the spoon to relieve pain that has persisted for months.
Mohammad, a physical therapist with Handicap International has been working with Salah for several weeks. The physical therapy sessions seem to help him mourn the loss of his daughter and adjust to his new situation.
“I met Mohammad just after I arrived in the camp. A neighbor came to see me and told me he knew someone who helps people like me. Mohammad gave me a wheelchair and a walker and now he does muscle-strengthening exercises with me. Since I arrived here, Handicap International has been the only organization to assist me. The sessions are helping me move forward.”
When asked about the future, Salah explains that he doesn't know whether or not he'll return to Mosul. “Everything I had there was destroyed. I’m still very affected by my daughter’s death. All I want now is to live in peace, in a country where I can be treated properly."
Mosul emergency: Fighting between armed groups and government forces in Iraq in recent years has displaced more than three million people. An estimated 11 million civilians already need humanitarian assistance in the country. The Mosul offensive has presented international organizations with an unprecedented challenge. More than 485,000 people have fled the city since last October.
Handicap International and the Iraqi crisis: More than 200,000 people have benefited from Handicap International’s actions since the launch of its emergency operations in Iraq in 2014. Our actions are regularly reviewed to take into account a highly volatile situation across the whole of Iraqi territory. Handicap International currently organizes population protection activities, raises awareness of the risk from mines and conventional weapons, conducts non-technical surveys and clears potentially hazardous areas, provides physical and functional rehabilitation and psychosocial support, supports health centers, organizes training and advocacy, and provides technical support to partners to enhance the inclusion of vulnerable people (people with disabilities, casualties, older people, and others) within their services.