The United Nations and its humanitarian partners in Iraq are scrambling to get emergency sites ready amidst a mass exodus from West Mosul.
According to the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the country, nearly 700,000 civilians are still living in the city where Iraqi forces are fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS / ISIL / Da’esh).
“The number of people is higher than expected,” Lise Grande told journalist in New York via videoconference from Iraq. “If the pace accelerates further, it’s going to stretch us to the breaking point.”
She added that if 50,000 civilians flee in a single day, the current system would not work properly. The UN and its partners have already started to set up large warehouse size structures which will house the families as they await “the dignified support they deserve,” said Ms. Grande.
According to the latest figures she disclosed, there are still an estimated 650,000 to 680,000 civilians in Mosul’s Old City.
“We fear the civilians there might be trapped in an extremely difficult situation. Families that chose to stay are at risk, families that leave are also at risk,” said Ms. Grande, noting that ISIL is targeting people who try to flee.
Meanwhile, according to the UN, people who stay are without food and water. No steady supplies have been able to reach the city since mid-November, Ms. Grande said.
Families with resources are trying to trade what they can to eat even one meal a day, according to stories from people who were able to flee, while some people go for days without meals.
“Whether you stay or whether you go there are significant risks to the civilians,” Ms. Grande noted. “The greatest problem is water.”
The UN and its partners are supplying food, water and other services to the sites, with more than 1.4 million people reached.