As areas of Mosul are liberated from ISIS control, Norwegian People’s Aid partner organisations are the first to arrive with emergency aid.
“People are happy to have their freedom, but the mood remains tense”, says NPA Program Manager Umelto Labetubun.
Norwegian People’s Aid works with the Kurdish Human Rights Organization (KHRO) and Zhya Organization to respond to the needs of civilians in neighbourhoods of Mosul immediately following the expulsion of ISIS by Iraqi and Kurdish forces.
“The military forces or other authorities call us with details as to which areas have been liberated. Because we work with small organisations with excellent local knowledge, we are able to respond rapidly and arrive with emergency aid within a few hours. We distribute food rations sufficient to last two weeks until the larger organisations and the UN have organised their own response”, says Labetubun.
Mosul has been under ISIS control since June 2014. It is an upsetting sight that meets Norwegian People’s Aid and its partner organisations when they arrive in areas where the Islamist group has just been driven out.
“There is an enormous amount of destruction – houses, roads and infrastructure. There is rubbish everywhere and people have no electricity or water. It’s very sad”, says Labetubun.
As the offensive against ISIS has gradually moved forward, the Islamist group has changed tactics, making increased use of suicide bombers and home-made drones.
“On a number of occasions while we have been distributing food we have heard explosions nearby. People we meet are glad that ISIS has been driven out of the neighbourhood, but they remain nervous and we notice the tense atmosphere.”
To limit the risk involved in distributing emergency aid, the organisations have to divide distributions into several sessions to make sure to avoid staying in one place for more than a few hours at a time. Aid distribution can attract large amounts of people and may be targeted by suicide bombers or other attacks.
Improvised Mines in schools
In addition to emergency aid, Norwegian People’s Aid also works with the clearance of improvised mines that ISIS have placed on roads, in buildings and other infrastructure.
“In one of the neighbourhoods we visited, I spoke with a teacher who told me that explosives had been placed in the local school. They were unable to allow the children back in. Even though ISIS has been driven away, many challenges still remain for the civilian population,” says Labetubun.
In order to limit the risks for people in liberated areas, Norwegian People’s Aid is planning to start Mine Risk Education and teaching the civilian population about how they can protect themselves against the dangers of improvised explosive devices.
Although conditions are difficult, many civilians choose to stay in the city, living in destroyed buildings or with their families, rather than move to the refugee camps outside the city.
“They want to stay in their own neighbourhoods and live a normal life although much of what they need is lacking. The situation gradually becomes normalised. A few months ago there was almost no activity in the streets. The last time we were in the city, a number of big markets had opened, there was lots of activity and both men and women were out in the streets.
“Meeting people from the liberated areas makes a great impression. The children are dirty and there are open sewers in the streets but the people are so strong. They smile and give us the peace sign. All the ISIS logos and slogans that were painted on walls have been painted over and the men we talked to were relieved to be allowed to cut their beards again”, says Craig MacInally, who is Operations Manager for the NPA mine clearance in the area.
Ready to scale up
During the offensive against Mosul, partner organisations have distributed food rations to 6,400 families in and around the city. A further 2,000 families have been provided with clean drinking water. Umelto Labetubun and his colleagues would like to scale up their efforts and help many more if they can get increased funding.
“What’s important with this type of project is that we’re able to respond quickly so that people in liberated areas don’t have to wait for days or weeks to get help. They are frustrated and tired, and with good reason”, says Labetubun.
A well as the humanitarian situation in and around Mosul, there are food shortages in a number of other areas in Iraq. Norwegian People’s Aid works with six partner organisations, distributing food vouchers in a total of six provinces.