In the last six weeks, military operations led by Iraqi security forces and its allies have been conducted to retake Fallujah in Anbar Governorate from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). People fled Fallujah in rapidly increasing numbers with about 30,000 people displaced over a span of 48 hours between 15 and 17 June. By the end of June, over 85,000 people had been displaced from Fallujah city and its environs.
Displaced people from Fallujah have been accommodated in an estimated 66 camps and informal sites, predominantly in the Ameriyat al Fallujah, Habbaniyah Tourist City, Khalidiyah and Bzeibiz bridge areas of eastern Anbar. Humanitarian support is being steadily increased, with over 4,300 tents distributed and installed since the displacement began on 22 May. Nearly 27,000 core relief item kits providing basic household supplies have also been distributed since the same date. Water, sanitation and hygiene partners have distributed over 1 million litres of bottled water and provided daily trucking of an average of 2,040 cubic metres of water to meet initial emergency needs. Provisions of food via hot meals, ready-to-eat pre-packaged meals and dry food rations are being provided by local volunteers, authorities, the UN and NGOs.
Despite these efforts, additional assistance is still needed, stretching the capacities of the limited number of partners on the ground. The UN and its partners have calculated the costs of the Fallujah operation at US$65 million assuming the operation runs for six months to a year. Of this, the Central Emergency Relief Fund provided $15 million in late June. This funding is timely and will help to immediately scale-up support, but it is only a fraction of what is required. With just $328 million – 38 per cent – of the 2016 Humanitarian Response Plan requirements received, the UN and its partners are rapidly depleting contingency stocks and the limited financial resources available.
Since 22 May, when military operations to retake Fallujah began, 85,000 civilians have managed to flee the city and its outlying areas. Families have taken extremely high risks to try to escape, sometimes with grave consequences. Families swam across the Euphrates River, desperate to reach safety on the other side. There are reports that some people drowned as they tried to escape and others were injured or killed by snipers. Other families ran away from armed opposition groups in the middle of the night, being shot at as they ran or injured by improvised explosive devices.
Most of the people who have fled Fallujah are sheltering in Ameriyat al Falluja, a town around 30km south of the city, where the Government and the UN had prepared tents and water and sanitation facilities in advance. These camps quickly reached full capacity and people coming out of Fallujah had no choice but to bed in warehouses, sleep in the open or join multiple families inside single tents. The Government and humanitarian partners are working quickly to set up new camps, including in the two nearby towns, Khalidiyah and Habbaniyah. People have also fled to areas east of Fallujah, including to Abu Ghraib, where many are living in local schools and transit sites.
The UN agencies and non-governmental organizations are working around the clock in some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable to provide aid to the people from Fallujah. Humanitarian partners are providing emergency assistance to the newly displaced, including shelter, water, food, basic household items and health care. Specialized activities for children and women are being established and mobile teams are providing psychological support.
The UN has not been able to access Fallujah since it came under the control of armed opposition groups in January 2014. Humanitarian partners worked with an estimate of about 50,000 civilians remaining in Fallujah. The number of displaced has been more than expected and the scope of the crisis has out-paced humanitarian capacity. Contingency stocks are nearly depleted, every agency requires funds and there are few front-line partners. With rising temperatures and lack of shade and clean drinking water, outbreaks of communicable diseases are likely. There is only limited support for new-born babies and nearly all of the children who have been outside Government control have not yet been immunized and partners are working to vaccinate children against preventable diseases such as polio and measles.
A sudden increase in insecurity in eastern Anbar, including near Ameriyat al Fallujah, from 28-30 June interrupted most humanitarian response efforts. A curfew was temporarily established and bridges between Anbar and Baghdad were temporarily closed, limiting the movement of many humanitarian workers and trucks carrying humanitarian supplies. The interruption of assistance even for a temporary period threatened to pose extreme risks to the wellbeing of displaced people, particularly for vulnerable groups. Access has since been restored.
Prior to the most recent military operation, more than 75,000 displaced people from other locations within Anbar were already residing in camps near Fallujah in Khalidiyah, Habbaniyah and Ameriyat al Fallujah. Humanitarian partners also continue to provide emergency assistance to other conflict affected people, including in the transit sites Al Wafaa and Kilo 18 in western Anbar.
Humanitarian agencies have calculated the costs of the Fallujah relief operation to $65 million. The Central Emergency Response Fund has approved a request for $15 million. This funding is timely and will help to immediately scale-up the support, but it is only a fraction of what is required. More funding is urgently needed to keep current operations afloat and to assist the newly displaced people and to prepare for potential future displacements. Despite its rigorous prioritization, only 38 per cent of the Humanitarian Response Plan, $328 million has been received. The impact of under-funding on the crisis in Iraq cannot be underestimated.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.