While the advances by jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claim most headlines regarding the current turmoil in Iraq, a growing humanitarian crisis threatens hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who may find themselves under the rule of the al Qaeda splinter group.
The siege of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, has prompted an exodus of families fleeing the fighting, many attempting to reach areas already flooded with refugees from the Syrian Civil War. The Daily Mail reports that as many as 2.8 million Syrian refugees have entered the countries bordering both Iraq and Syria, and about one fourth of the population of Mosul–an estimated two million–are now displaced. The Red Cross announced that they have already distributed food to 8,000 people in the Mosul area, but the situation is increasingly dire.
The problems surfacing this week in Iraq join a significant increase in violence and scarcity in recent months. CNN reports that, according to the United Nations, more than 8,800 people died in Iraq in 2013, and 500,000 civilians are believed to have been displaced since the beginning of 2014 in Anbar province alone.
The United Nations World Food Programme is warning that the UN generally must exhaust all its resources in helping Iraqi refugees. WFP Representative in Iraq Jane Pearce warned that reports have already surfaced of food lacking in markets and shops in areas between Iraq and Kurdistan, an autonomous region to which many Iraqis are fleeing. “Meeting the food needs of the most vulnerable groups is a crucial step for WFP’s mission in the country,” she added.
The European Union–of which many nations have expressed hesitation to become involved in the Iraq crisis–has also sounded the alarm on the impending humanitarian disaster that has already begun to strike the Iraqi people. EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid Kristalina Georgieva warned that “tragically, all our worst fears have now been realized,” noting that the situation before the ISIS offensive was already dire for many Iraqis. Some countries that have eliminated the possibility of military aid, like the United Kingdom, have already begun to send humanitarian aid to Iraq.
The United States has also announced increased humanitarian aid. The Department of State has announced it will provide $12.8 million in additional aid to help refugees fleeing ISIS, half of which will go to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) “for essential humanitarian supplies like blankets, tents, and hygiene items.”