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Worsening humanitarian conditions drive Mercy Corps response

Iraq, July 3, 2014

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  • This family fled the fighting in Mosul and are near the Khazair checkpoint in Iraq's Kurdistan region. They hope to stay in Erbil city until it is safe to return home. Photo courtesy of: UNHCR/R. Nuri

Essential supplies of food, water and fuel are running dangerously low as thousands more people flee ongoing fighting in Iraq and the harsh summer heat intensifies the risks they face far from home.

Our team will distribute desperately-needed emergency supplies this week to thousands of families who are seeking shelter wherever they can — overcrowded homes, schools, mosques, or even out in the open.

We’re working in areas bordering the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, where some 500,000 escaped for safety after the battle for Mosul, the first large city to fall to insurgents earlier this month.

New reports indicate that number has risen to more than 640,000 in the last few weeks as more cities fall to insurgents, and many people have now been displaced multiple times.

“That’s a lot of people to move into the Kurdish region, and there are some concerns about how to manage that number of people over the long term, in addition to the 250,000 Syrian refugees still here,” our Iraq Country Director, Steve Claborne, told PBS Newshour.

Mercy Corps has been supporting Syrian refugees in the Kurdish region since last year, in addition to our decade of work helping Iraqis with emergency assistance, education and community development.

Our assessment of current conditions indicates that food and day-to-day supplies are the two most urgent needs for displaced families.

With temperatures in Iraq soaring above 100 degrees, there is the risk that the heat and unsanitary conditions could contribute to outbreaks of cholera, polio and measles as the summer goes on.

We are preparing 5,000 hygiene kits, each of which will give a family of five the essentials they need to stay clean and healthy.

We are also working with our extensive network of local partners to ramp up our response to increased needs and determine how to help hundreds of thousands of people who may face long-term displacement.

Already, a severe fuel shortage and recent cuts to electricity and water services are raising concerns about how to reach all those in need with the food, water and support they need.

“Syria started out with only 300,000 refugees or displaced people, but now there’s 6.5 million,” Claborne explained in the NewsHour interview. The current crisis unfolding in Iraq “could potentially be a much larger disaster than it is now. We’re still in the early days and the end is so unpredictable.”