Iraq + 1 more

Note to Correspondents / Noon Briefing Remarks on Iraq, by Kieran Dwyer, OCHA's Communications Chief (by phone from Erbil)

Unofficial transcript

Thank you for the opportunity to brief you today from Erbil in the Kurdistan region here in northern Iraq.

I would like today to put the spotlight on the deepening humanitarian crisis in northern Iraq right now and to update you a little bit on what the UN and the humanitarian community is doing right now to support the local authorities and communities to try and save lives.

I want to focus on three aspects of the current crisis.

The first is the immediate and terrible crisis on Mount Sinjar, which I’m sure colleagues have themselves been covering or following on the media.

Second, to put the spotlight on the situation in the Dohuk Governorate, which since 3 August has seen a massive displacement of 200,000 people, as armed groups have ramped up their violence, and people flee for their lives.

And third, just to give you some context for what has been a deepening crisis since 9 June when those armed groups really rose their levels of violence a massive amount - 600,000 people fled for their lives. Now in Iraq we have more than 1.2 million displaced people.

Combined, all of this amounts to a humanitarian catastrophe.

I would just like to tell colleagues among the correspondents regarding numbers: at this stage the situation is so fluid and violence continues, that we are unable to give verified numbers in relation to movement. So, we are able to give some estimates at times but nothing can be absolutely verified.

On Mount Sinjar. First of all, we are on Day 9 of the crisis when people, largely from the Yazidi community, and other minorities as well, fled to Mount Sinjar in absolute fear of their lives.

We have seen in this time that air drops of food and water have been going on for some days now. We can confirm that the air drops are having very important positive effect to reach some of the trapped people. But the situation for the people still on the mountain is absolutely dire.

If I could just say to you that Mount Sinjar, to give you some context, is about 100 km long, and is about 10 km wide – it’s a very large area. It’s something like a camel’s back, it’s largely rocky, barren hilltop and around the edge of the mountain there are crevasses. People trapped on the mountain are absolutely exposed to the heat and searingly hot heat, we are talking over 45C (110 plus degrees F). People are trapped in multiple locations on the mountain. On the south side people are most exposed to the armed groups.

We can confirm that in the last 72 hours some thousands of people have been able to get off the mountain, escaping with the assistance of the Kurdish security forces and others. Most escape from the north side of the mountain, which is near the border of Syria. And from there they move by foot, which is about a 7-hour walk, or sometimes with the help of vehicles, to try to get to a point on the Tigris River back into Iraq, and there is a pontoon bridge at the border crossing called Pesh Khabur where people are coming back in.

Kurdistan Regional authorities are accepting people there and then they are moved quickly to where they can get support. Some thousands have come in. We can’t give the precise number but we do know that there are still many, many people trapped on the mountain.

If I could then just go to the wider scale of the whole situation then I will touch upon the direct support to the people coming in from Pesh Khabur.

200,000 people displaced in last eight or nine days, mostly from the Sinjar district and the Ninevah plains into an area called Dohuk Governorate. We are working with the local authorities there in rapid fashion to make sure that people have water, food, shelter and emergency health care.

I can run through what specific agencies are doing as examples:

  • That includes UNHCR providing protection and assisting local authorities with shelter. It includes also provision of mattresses and blankets for people.

  • We can let you know that in one particular town called Zakho town - and this is the town where lot of the people coming in off the mountain crossing Pesh Khabur, about an hour away by road they get to Zakho - there are 90-100,000 people reported to be displaced there, according to the local Mayor.

  • At the moment 16 schools are set up in that town being used as emergency shelter for people. Over 20,500 mattresses and with blankets have been distributed in last few days.

  • I can let you know that WFP is setting up four communal kitchens in that Governorate and has provided 1.6 million meals in the last week alone. They have also prepared one metric tonne of high energy bars to be air dropped by the Iraqi Government across the Sinjar Mountain.

  • I can also let you know also that UNICEF critically estimates that about half of these 200,000 displaced people are children under the age of 15. They are especially concerned for the welfare of the surviving children on Sinjar mountain, where it is extremely difficult.

  • UNICEF confirms that at least 56 children have died since the crisis broke last week, but they also stress that we do not know the fate of those still on the mountain.

  • UNICEF has provided drinking water and rehydration salts to help prevent or treat diarrhoea and they have provided high energy biscuits for 34,000 children under the age of five in the past week.

  • WHO is working with the local authorities. 16 ambulances have been dispatched to the border crossing of Pesh Khabur and mobile clinics are working across the Dohuk Governorate to try and support the displaced people.

  • UNFPA is supporting over 1,300 pregnant women with hygiene supplies as well as helping local authorities with medical supplies to support 150,000 people.

I would just stress again that the people coming off the mountain are every single day in much worse condition than the day before. It is extremely tough and they need urgent medical support, water and food support.

I’d like to stress one particular concern as well and UN Women is working with local authorities on this; we have grave concern for the safety of the women and girls who have been abducted by armed groups and we know that this includes a report that up to 500 women and girls are being held in a prison in Mosul. UN Women is working on that. This is a terrible situation.

That’s a broad scope of the situation. I said that since 9 June when this latest crisis broke out we’ve seen more than 650,000 people displaced and in the last 10 days another 200,000 people. The violence is continuing. It’s a very fluid and mobile situation.

We need to stress that security is critical for humanitarian access, which of course is a great problem on the mountain and the security is key to us being able to deliver life-saving support. We are scaling up our efforts because of the growing scale of this situation.

I’d like to conclude by saying that the support of our donors has been critical to being able to bring that support to the local partners. And obviously I need to mention here that, in particular, the US$500 million provided by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has given us that capacity to scale up fast. We count on continued support from donors because, it is very sad to say, but we see this crisis continuing for some time.



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