Humanitarian crisis escalates as fighting in Mosul subsides


July 11, 2017

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  • Bouchra and her son Ahmed, 11. She has three boys and one girl. In Oct. 2016 her family moved to East Mosul while it was still held by ISIS — her children have not attended school since that time since she refused to send her kids to the ISIS schools. Her husband was killed by ISIS in December 2016. She spent the first Mercy Corps cash distribution on food and medicine for her kids, but now she is starting a small business baking bread out of her home, and she is setting aside some of the money to buy fuel for the oven. ALL PHOTOS: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps

The Mercy Corps team in Iraq is working hard to meet urgent needs as vulnerable families navigate perilous and precarious conditions

Months of intense fighting to capture the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS may be nearing an end after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi this week declared victory in the country’s second largest city, but a severe humanitarian crisis persists. Nearly 1 million displaced people are unable to return home and thousands more are still trapped inside the city.

Based in the provinces of Ninewa, Erbil, Kirkuk and Salah-Din, Mercy Corps is working to quickly meet humanitarian needs.

“The suffering in Mosul is massive,” says Arnaud Quemin, Mercy Corps’ interim country director in Iraq. “People who have fled their homes will need help until they can go back. Once they do, they will struggle to resume a normal life. People will not recover overnight when the military operations end.”

Emergency needs

A young girl waits in line at a Mercy Corps cash distribution in East Mosul. Since July 2016, Mercy Corps has helped more than 12,000 families impacted by conflict around Mosul.

Mercy Corps has operated continuously in Iraq since 2003 to both work on long-term infrastructure in the country and meet emergency needs of the tens of thousands of people who have fled conflict. More than 320,000 people are in 19 camps and emergency sites, while another 360,000 people are sheltering with family and friends, according to the United Nations. Already vulnerable communities are strained to a breaking point.

Learn more about the current crisis in Mosul ▸

Those who have fled have lost everything and are suffering from acute trauma, according to Mercy Corps team members on the ground. Every day brings new waves of arrivals as people escape a city in rubble and others try to find a way back home. Thousands of displaced people are sheltering in tents in temperatures that have reached the life-threatening temperature of 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius). Outbreaks of food poisoning, water shortages and obstacles to critical healthcare are daily struggles.

In order to enable families to survive through these challenges, Mercy Corps is providing them with the equivalent of US $400 in Iraqi dinars. Cash distributions are the most effective way to provide humanitarian aid and the most dignified, allowing people to buy what they need most for themselves and their families, while infusing money into the local economy.

By the end of August, Mercy Corps expects to have reached more than 200,000 people affected by the conflict in Mosul.


Kawla, 12, and her father received a cash distribution from Mercy Corps. With the cash from Mercy Corps, families are buying food and household essentials to help set themselves up in new homes.

In addition to trauma from years of strife, Mosul’s residents can anticipate a struggle to piece together a delicate coexistence between different religions, social groups, tribes and others in a city that has been a crossroads for cultures for millennia.

Its pre-war population of 1.5 million people — that number has now been halved — included Muslim Arabs and Kurds, as well as Christians belonging to ancient sects.

“This coexistence has been upset by the shock of war. It will take a deliberate effort to recreate a sense of living together again,” says Quemin.

To that end, Mercy Corps is working to reduce social tension that has arisen with the displacement of millions of people, and the organization works with local youth associations to nurture a sense of well-being among young people who have grown up in wartime. Yet Quemin is careful to note that despite these efforts to heal divisions caused by conflict, the team does not anticipate an end to the violence. In neighboring Syria, U.S.-backed forces are battling ISIS in its stronghold of Raqqa.

“The battle for Mosul was one step in a broader campaign to remove ISIS from Iraq. A new front will open soon, and with that we can expect fresh displacement, destruction and suffering will follow,” Quemin says.

“The war is far from over.”

How to help

  • Donate today. Mercy Corps is currently addressing the needs of conflict-affected populations, including displaced Iraqi civilians, refugees from Syria and Iraqi host communities. Your support makes our response to emergencies in Iraq and elsewhere in the world possible.
  • Sign the petition. Tell Congress not to cut international aid. Around the world, people are in need of lifesaving assistance — including those affected by conflict. We must continue to support them.
  • Tell your friends. Share this story or go to our Facebook page or Twitter page to post the infographic and spread the word about the millions who need us.