The Humanitarian Catastrophe in Iraq

The humanitarian crisis in Iraq is getting worse.

As of this morning, there were still 20,000 to 30,000 people trapped on Sinjar mountain in Northern Iraq. The USA says it has dropped tens of thousands of meals to those stranded on the mountain, but the  airdrops of humanitarian supplies to the stranded population seems to be of limited effect. The UN high Commissioner for Refugees says that those who are trapped on the mountain are without food, water or shelter.

In a report today, Amnesty said flatly that these humanitarian efforts are “failing.”

The international response to large scale displacement of civilians from areas seized by ISIS has been woefully inadequate to date. Even much publicized emergency air-drops to members of the Yezidi community stranded in villages on the Sinjar Mountain surrounded by ISIS militants have proved largely ineffective.

“We have nothing, nothing has come to us,” a man trapped in Kocho, a village on the south side of the Sinjar Mountain, told Amnesty International.

“We hear the planes in the distance but nobody has come to us or sent us anything. We can’t leave. ISIS will catch us and kill us if we do. For god’s sake, please help us”.

Hundreds of survivors from the mountain and many still stuck there told Amnesty International said that no aid had reached them and many said water bottles air-dropped in recent days often broke on impact.

Meanwhile, the areas to which people are fleeing ISIS’ advance are becoming overwhelmed. The city of Zakho near the Turkish border, with a population of 350,000 is hosting some 100,000 IDPs. In all, In all the UN Refugee Agency says there are more than 1.2 million internally displaced people in Iraq. An estimated 700,000 are in the Kurdistan region which UNHCR says already hosts some 220,000 Syrian refugees.

American military engagement is certainly helping to prevent ISIS’ advance on the city of Erbil; and is also helping create a path off of Sinjar mountain for the tens of thousands of people trapped there. But the humanitarian catastrophe created by ISIS remains as dire as ever. And there are still tens of thousands of people trapped on the mountain without the basic necessities to sustain human life.

What is desperately needed at this point is what officials are calling a “humanitarian corridor.” The top UN official in Iraq is reportedly trying to secure some sort of overland route to reach displaced populations — in Sinjar and surrounding areas — with the relief they so desperately need.  Without it, thousands of people may die.

Image credit: Iraqi refugee children who fled from Tal Afar and found shelter in schools, mosques and unfinished buildings in the area of Sinjar, in Ninawa governorate. Photo: Iraqi Red Crescent/UNOCHA