UNHCR in a major aid push into northern Iraq

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Workers unload trucks laden with hundreds of tents for families displaced by the recent fighting in Iraq.© UNHCR/E.Colt

A major humanitarian operation to reach close to half a million people displaced in northern Iraq is being launched by the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

The air, road and sea operation will begin on Wednesday starting with a four day airlift of humanitarian supplies from Aqaba in Jordan to Erbil followed by road convoys from Turkey and Jordan, and sea and land shipments from Dubai.

Displaced people mainly from Iraqi minority groups have sought refuge in Dohuk governorate of the Kurdistan region escaping violence unleashed by militant groups on the city of Sinjah and its neighbouring areas.

Adrian Edwards from UNHCR says Iraq's current humanitarian challenges are immense, with most of the displaced living rough in schools, mosques, churches, and unfinished buildings.

"The major focus is on improving living conditions for the displaced in the region, particularly people without shelter or housing. Conditions remain desperate for those without access to suitable shelter, people struggling to find food and water to feed their families, and those without access to primary medical care. Many are still coming to grips with the tragedy they've been through in recent weeks – fleeing homes with nothing, and many trying to cope with the loss of loved ones. Emergency support is an urgent need that we are trying to meet. Included in the initial aid shipments are 3,300 tents, 20,000 plastic sheets, 18,500 kitchen sets, and 16,500 jerry cans. The needs are not confined to the Kurdistan Region. There are other camps or sites in other governorates where displaced people have gathered including in Sulaymaniyah, Diyala, and Kirkuk. The Iraqi government has also set up three caravan centres for the displaced in Baghdad."

Last week, the United Nations declared its highest level of emergency in Iraq to facilitate mobilization of additional resources to meet the growing humanitarian needs of populations affected by forced displacements.

An upsurge of violence in Iraq has displaced over 1.2 million people since the beginning of the year.

Patrick Maigua, United Nations, Geneva.

Duration: 2’04″

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