As newly-displaced Iraqis are starting to arrive at camps set up by the United Nations for people fleeing the ongoing military offensive to wrest Mosul from terrorists, the Organization’s health and refugee agencies have ramped up their own operations to provide assistance and to respond to what has thus far been a ‘moderate’ influx.
This week, flights from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will be bringing in some 7,200 tents from its emergency warehouse in Dubai, this number is part of agency’s effort to secure 50,000 tents and 50,000 emergency shelter kits for families on the move.
Similarly, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) has conducted a series of trainings on early warning and response for staff from health facilities established recently to respond to the needs of newly displaced populations in both formal and emergency settlements, as well as the hosting communities.
The first UNHCR flight arrived last night with some 1,515 tents.
“These airlifts are vital and will allow us to respond as soon as displaced Iraqis reach our camps and need shelter,” said UNHCR’s Representative in Iraq, Bruno Geddo in a news release issued by the agency.
Preparations ongoing but fear is that efforts could be overwhelmed
In an interview with UN Radio Mr. Geddo said that the agency has seen only modest levels of population movement, and has recoded some 10,550 displaced persons since the beginning over military operations in Mosul.
“The interesting thing is that of the people that fled to the south towards Qayyara, where there are no camps, many have already returned home,” he said, noting that this is emblematic of a pattern that had “pretty quickly established itself” of people waiting out military operations [in nearby Iraqi towns] and then returning home.
Explaining ongoing preparatory measures in the anticipation of increased displacement, he added: “We are building camps and finalizing preparations at a frantic pace, but the current capacity is still limited to around 60,000 people.”
“So if people are displaced from the city in waves, it will be easier to manage. If 150,000 to 200,000 people are displaced at once […] it will become a humanitarian disaster,” he cautioned.
As Mosul offensive approaches, UNHCR planning intensifies. Credit: UNHCR
Monitoring for disease outbreaks
WHO, meanwhile, has raised the importance of monitoring the health situation, particularly the trends and patterns of communicable diseases.
The training the agency conducted on early warning and response is a vital component of this work.
“[Early warning alert and response network system] EWARNS will be the tool to measure these trends and help to detect early epidemics in displaced population areas to support the federal and regional ministries of health and health cluster partners with effective epidemic-prone disease prevention and control measures,” said WHO’s Representative to Iraq, Altaf Musani.
The three consecutive trainings, conducted from 28 September to 6 October, marked the entry of 43 new health facilities to the network in Iraq that takes the number of reporting sites to over 180.
These trainings also addressed a number of issues relating to selected disease events and syndromes case definitions, verification of alerts and steps of outbreak investigations and EWARNS reporting through the use of mobile computing devices.
Pre-positioning essential medicine stockpiles
In addition to the training and building the capacity of health workers, the UN health agency is also putting in place stockpiles of medicines and medical supplies as well as strengthening the capacity of testing laboratories to support Iraqi health authorities.
“Applying [these] best practices will be important to avert mortality and morbidity from any epidemic of communicable diseases, including cholera,” Mr. Musani noted.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OHCA), 200,000 people are estimated to be displaced in first weeks of the offensive. In the worst-case scenario, up to a million people could be displaced.
UNHCR, in its news release, also noted that with full funding and readiness, it will be able to provide a range of shelter options inside and outside camps for up to 600,000 people.
However, it has only received 48 per cent ($95 million) of funds required for its emergency response in Mosul, costed at $196.2 million, and is appealing to donors for additional help.