A large-scale military offensive is underway to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) fighters.
“Families are at extreme risk of being caught in cross-fire or targeted by snipers. Tens of thousands of Iraqi girls, boys, women and men may be under siege or held as human shields,” UN Emergency Relief Coordination Stephen O’Brien said in a statement.
“As many as one million people may be forced to flee their homes in a worst-case scenario,” he added.
Underscoring that nothing is more important than ensuring the protection of civilians and their access to assistance, he also called on all parties to the conflict to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law and to ensure the protection of civilians.
In particular, he emphasized that children, women, the elderly and disabled will be specifically vulnerable.
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or Islamic State (IS) is a militant organization.
With a strong force of over 70,000 fighters under its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIL is attacking different nations with the aim to set up a large Islamic State called the Caliphate. It is believed that now ISIS has a presence in nearly 30 countries of the world.
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Mr. O’Brien, who is also the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), further highlighted that humanitarian actors will be doing “everything possible” to support the people who may be affected by the military operation.
According to the statement, shelter is currently available for 60,000 people in camps and emergency sites and construction of additional sites, with capacity for 250,000 people, is underway.
Further, food rations for 220,000 families are ready for distribution, 143,000 sets of emergency household items are in stock, and latrines and showers are being readied for dispatch and 240 tonnes of medication are available at distribution points.
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The statement also noted that despite generous contributions from donor countries, funding has been insufficient to prepare fully for the worst-case scenario.
Meanwhile, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi, presently on a four-day mission in Iraq, stressed that protection of civilians should be the most important element of the military operation.
UNHCR said the assault on Mosul comes as the number of people displaced by war in Iraq has reached 3.3 million, or nearly one-tenth of the population.
With hundreds of thousands of people likely to need assistance with shelter and other basic services, Mr. Grandi stressed that security screening of those fleeing the city should be conducted “in the most appropriate manner” – preferably overseen with UN monitors.