UN Agency Warns of Humanitarian Crisis in Southern Iraq

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Displaced Iraqis from Mosul and Tal Afar city gather to protest in the southern city of Najaf on January 25, 2015 against their living conditions, asking Iraq's top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to push the central government to liberate their areas from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group. AFP/Haidar Hamdani

Published Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The United Nations' food agency warned on Tuesday of a looming humanitarian crisis in southern Iraq, where tens of thousands of destitute, displaced families have sought refuge from conflict.

The World Food Program (WFP) said the situation in the governorates of Najaf, Karbala and Babel was reaching "critical levels" because of an influx of people who have fled violence in other parts of the country and no longer have any means of supporting themselves.

The Rome-based WFP said it was assisting 50,000 displaced families in Basra, Thi Qar, Qadissiya, Missan, Wassit, Muthanna, Najaf, Karbala, and Babel.

Many are living in unoccupied public buildings or mosques and have already used up what savings they had getting to the relatively safe south from other, more expensive, parts of the country.

"The people receiving the aid are entirely dependent on it and are becoming vulnerable," WFP spokeswoman Abeer Etefa told AFP.

"While the situation is now under control because we are feeding people, we are concerned that this assistance is not going to be sustainable once funding dries up in March and then these people will have to be on their own with the absence of any other form of regular assistance for food and other basic humanitarian needs."

The WFP warning was issued after a recent assessment of the situation which found many families were unable to say where their next meal would come from.

One of the people interviewed for the research was Najat Hussein, 36, a mother of six who said she had lost her husband seven months ago in the conflict in Tel Afar and subsequently moved to Karbala.

"Time has stopped for us. There is no work, no schools and no future," she was quoted as saying by WFP. "We receive WFP food rations every month. Without this help I would be begging for food."

WFP aid involves the delivery of staples such as flour, rice, oil and pasta to families who have found semi-permanent places of refuge, emergency supplies to people still on the move and the issuing of food vouchers in areas where this can support local economies. The agency said it provided food support to 1.4 million people in Iraq in 2014.

The WFP also provided 1.7 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt with food vouchers in 2104.

The agency has faced difficulty providing for the millions of refugees who have been forced out of their homes in the nearly 4-year-old conflict.

Thanks to a social media campaign in December, the WFP was able to raise $80 million from private individuals, companies, and countries to cover a $65 million shortfall that would have left refugees with no food support.

A UN refugee agency (UNHCR) report published mid-November showed that about 13.6 million people, equivalent to the population of London, have been displaced by conflicts in Syria and Iraq, many without food or shelter as winter starts.

The 13.6 million include 7.2 million displaced within Syria — an increase from a long-held UN estimate of 6.5 million — as well as 3.3 million Syrian refugees abroad.

Amnesty International announced in December that wealthy nations have only taken in a “pitiful” number of the millions of refugees uprooted by Syria’s conflict, placing the burden on the country’s ill-equipped neighbors, with only 1.7 of Syrian refugees having been offered sanctuary outside of the region.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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