In a report written this week assessing the humanitarian conditions in the Kurdish Autonomous Region of northern Iraq, Mercy Corps Global Emergency Operations officer Pete Sweetnam describes a situation filled with uncertainty and anxiety as the prospect of conflict in the region increases.
"Generally, the situation in northern Iraq is very fragile," Sweetnam writes. "Because we cannot determine what will happen, where, how or even if, Mercy Corps is preparing a very flexible humanitarian response."
Sweetnam is in northern Iraq working with staff members from Mercy Corps' global partner Peace Winds Japan to prepare for a possible humanitarian crisis in the region. He is part of Mercy Corps' region-wide Iraq Emergency Response Team which is coordinating with international and local partners in Iraq and its neighboring countries.
In his report, Sweetnam writes that among the greatest concerns right now for the people living in northern Iraq is the possible movement of Turkish troops into autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq if a conflict does start. The border with Turkey is already firmly closed and because Turkey is the largest trading partner with northern Iraq there are fears that a closed border for an extended period of time will likely further strain the existing supply of food and basic goods in the region.
Sweetnam says that Mercy Corps and Peace Winds Japan are in the process of bringing additional non-food relief items into the region. The agencies are also developing plans to increase the number of mobile medical clinics in the area so that current health programs that assist more than 80,000 people will not be interrupted and could be expanded to assist people affected by a conflict.
The Kurdish-controlled region of northern Iraq experienced some of the greatest humanitarian needs in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War in 1990-1991 with hundreds of thousands forced from their homes. Sweetnam writes that more than a decade later there are still a significant number of people living in internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps across the region and landmines continue to pose a major threat to people throughout the region.
In addition to planning for a possible humanitarian crisis, Mercy Corps and Peace Winds Japan continue to operate programs that provide critical medical, shelter and social care assistance to more than 300,000 people in northern Iraq.