GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Friday it was expanding aid operations in Iraq to help 1 million people driven from their homes by fighting as Islamist militant forces have seized wide tracts of the country’s north and west this year.
Many families are living in the open, in urgent need of food, water, shelter and latrines, said Jacqueline Badcock, the United Nations resident and humanitarian coordinator in Iraq.
“Humanitarian agencies are rapidly scaling up in the face of this unfortunate challenge,” she said in a statement appealing for access to thousands of displaced in areas held by armed factions including the radical Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL).
Insecurity and depleted fuel stocks are hampering efforts to deliver supplies, amid fears of outbreaks of measles and diarrhoeal diseases, U.N. aid agencies said.
Around 500,000 people who fled the northern city of Mosul after ISIL overran it 10 days ago have found refuge in a nearby Kurdish autonomous zone and adjoining areas in Nineveh province now largely under jihadi Islamist control.
Roughly the same number have been uprooted by fighting in Iraq’s vast western province of Anbar where Sunni Muslim jihadi militants largely hold the main towns of Falluja and Ramadi.
“Right now it’s a chaotic situation, you’ve had very large numbers of people who have moved across. They are trying to find accommodation, trying to exist on the funds they have and we are trying to get help to them,” Adrian Edwards of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR told a news briefing in Geneva.
“Clearly new displacement in this region which is under immense strain is the last thing that we need at the moment.”
More than 2.8 million Syrian refugees have already flooded into neighboring countries from their country’s three-year-old uprising and civil war, including nearly 225,000 into Iraq, according to the UNHCR.
Iraqi forces were massing north of Baghdad on Friday, aiming to strike back at ISIL, whose lightning offensive towards the capital has prompted the United States to send in military advisers to stiffen government resistance.
Health officials in the Kurdistan region of Iraq are reporting critical shortages of medicines after regular deliveries were interrupted from the central government in Baghdad, the World Health Organization said.
The WHO has provided medical supplies for mobile clinics as well as trauma kits to treat 200 wounded, emergency health kits for 20,000 people, and supplies to treat diarrhoeal diseases, spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said.
The World Food Programme (WFP) said that seven trucks had delivered 175 metric tonnes of food to its warehouse in the Kurdistan city of Arbil, where its operations are expanding.
“Reaching IDPs (internally displaced persons) who are constantly on the move, often in insecure areas, will also present significant challenges for WFP and the humanitarian community,” WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said.
Clashes broke out overnight near al-Qaem camp in Anbar province, creating panic among 5,000 Syrian refugees living in and around the camp, Edwards said.
A U.N. appeal of $104 million to help Iraqis displaced from Anbar is being revised as more funds are needed to cope with the wider crisis following ISIL’s offensive, Jens Laerke of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
Editing by Mark Heinrich