According to the Washington Post newspaper, the battle for the northern city of Mosul could force a million people to flee their homes. But even before it begins, aid agencies are struggling to shelter families already displaced by the conflict against ISIL.
The United Nations says it is nowhere near ready to deal with the fallout from the U.S.-backed offensive to retake Mosul from the militants, which could begin in less than a month.
The camps in northern Iraq, however, are full. Debaga camp, 40 miles southeast of Mosul on the edges of its northern region of Kurdistan, was built a year ago for 700 families. It now houses 10 times as many people, most of whom fled fighting as Iraqi forces retook territory south of the city.
Crowds gather around reporters, hoping they are aid workers bringing humanitarian assistance. “Register me! Register me!” they shout. They complain they don’t have mattresses, medicine, milk for their children or diapers.
Many don’t have tents, with 1,100 families here waiting for shelter. They bed down in the classrooms and yard of the camp’s school and in the hall of a mosque. Some have slung tarpaulins up next to walls in an attempt to shield themselves from the sun.
When the offensive begins – the biggest yet against ISIL militants – assistance is expected to be even more scarce. Aid organizations are strapped of resources.
“Almost every victory is accompanied by a simultaneous humanitarian crisis,” said Lise Grande, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Iraq. “It’s a lot – sometimes it feels like too much.”
The U.N. is scrambling to build standard camps like the one at Debaga. But if numbers reach the highest predictions, they will be able to handle only a fraction of those fleeing. Four standard camps, with the capacity for 70,000 people, are expected to be completed during October, said Peter Hawkins, the UNICEF representative in Iraq.
However, many more could be be displaced.
About 2 million people lived in Mosul before ISIL took over, but it is difficult to know how many remain. The U.N. estimates that between 1.2 million and 1.5 million now live there. Some Iraqi officials contend that the population is higher because of the number of people who moved into the city to escape Iraqi army offensives to the south.