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UN Warns of Disastrous Situation for Displaced in Iraq

Displaced Iraqi boys pose at the Bilad al-Arab Elementary School, which has been turned into a housing complex for almost 31 families who fled Mosul because of Islamic State violence, in Baghdad, Oct. 22, 2014.

The United Nations is appealing for $173 million to help displaced people in Iraq withstand the coming winter. The aid will go to people uprooted by attacks by the Islamic State militant group.

The United Nations estimates 1.9 million people have been forced to flee their homes since January, many with little more than the clothes on their back. Nearly half have sought refuge in Iraq’s Kurdistan region.

Temperatures in that mountainous area are expected to drop to below freezing as winter sets in. U.N. aid agencies say hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people are ill-prepared to face a harsh winter.

Spokesman for the U.N. Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Jens Laerke, said the weather already is biting. In many parts of Iraq, he says displaced people are being hit with heavy rain, wind, storms and low temperatures. The situation is particularly brutal at night and particularly difficult in the high altitude region of Kurdistan.

“The situation in Iraq is, as we have said on numerous occasions, disastrous. Hundreds of thousands are sheltering in unfinished buildings and public facilities, including schools or in informal settlements, as well as out in the open," said Laerke. "More than half a million Iraqis are in need of immediate shelter support and an estimated 1.1 million children will require additional care during the winter months.”

Tough conditions

The United Nations says priority needs include weather-appropriate tents, warm clothing, food, heating and cooking fuel, and health services. Aid agencies are particularly concerned about the welfare of the more than one million displaced children.

They note that acute respiratory infections and chronic infections are common during the winter. They figure up to half of the displaced children may become sick and need medical care.

The appeal for $173.1 million is part of the United Nations' $2.2 billion overall humanitarian response plan for conflict-ridden Iraq. That plan would provide protection and humanitarian needs for 5.2 million Iraqis throughout 2015. The appeal is focused on assuring that 1.25 million people survive the winter.