Fallujah fell in June. Now Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, is the focus of an international coalition seeking to push ISIL out of Iraq. Haider al-Abadi, the Iraqi Prime Minister, announced the start of the offensive on state television on 17 October. And Mosul won’t be surrendered easily – it has great strategic and symbolic importance. It was here that ISIL proclaimed a caliphate two years ago.
Long-term partners French ACTED and ShelterBox have teams in the city of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, just 53 miles from Mosul. They have been working for weeks to get aid supplies ready so they can respond quickly as the battle unfolds. Tens of thousands of people have already been displaced from Mosul and surrounding areas since March. The working assumption is that as the assault progresses numbers will rise rapidly.
Contingency planning in war zones is never easy. But aid agencies in Iraq are grappling with several unknowns. For example, it’s unclear how many people remain in Mosul – some estimates put the figure as high as 1.5 million. Nor do aid agencies know how long the military operation will last, how many people will flee, and in which directions. Planning for how much aid will be needed, and where, is a matter of instinct and assumption.
Existing camps are already near or beyond capacity so other possible sites are currently being readied. But demand will almost certainly outstrip supply, meaning many families could be forced to seek shelter outside managed camps in a barren and inhospitable landscape at a time of year given to storms and freezing overnight temperatures.
ShelterBox’s Rachel Harvey in Erbil says, ‘The aim is to get aid to displaced families as quickly as possible. So we are prepositioning stock close to places where we think they might arrive. They are likely to be exhausted and traumatised by their recent experiences. Giving people shelter and essential items such as a solar lamp, blankets and a water carrier will allow them a degree of dignity and security to rest and recover.’
But the over-riding feeling is that the numbers and the need will be overwhelming, that the capacity of the combined international assistance will not be enough. The UN estimates that only 54% of the necessary aid funding is in place.
Earlier this year ShelterBox and ACTED made half-finished houses weatherproof in the village of Seje for 2,000 people who had fled the terror of Mount Sinjar two years ago. And ShelterBox has recently committed 3,000 tents for the region, and has a further 3,000 on standby. The first shipment left its Cornwall warehouse last week. ShelterBox is also working with ACTED to make improvements in displacement camps, and has been sourcing and storing portable kits that will allow families on the move to create their own rudimentary shelters.
ShelterBox is asking its donors to dig deep to provide over £1.75 million more to allow this vital work to continue.
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