Editor's note: This article was originally published October 19, 2016; it was updated July 27, 2017 to reflect the latest information.
A major humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Iraq. Military operations to retake the city of Mosul from ISIS control began in October 2016 and have since forced nearly 900,000 people from their homes. Now that the conflict is over, tens of thousands of families lack access to food, water, shelter and other essentials.
Mercy Corps has seen hundreds of thousands of people from Mosul flee their homes over the past nine months. With this level of devastation, it's very unlikely that the majority of displaced families will be going home anytime soon.
A boy looks out the window of his family's tent at a displacement camp in Jeddah, Iraq. Photo: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps
The more you know about this crisis, the more we can do together to help those in need. Read below to learn about the people beneath the headlines—and find out how you can help.
Where is Mosul? How many people live there?
Mosul is located in northern Iraq and is the country’s second-largest city. Prior to recent conflicts, the city was home to about 2.5 million people.
When did the conflict start?
Mosul fell to ISIS control in 2014. An offensive in 2015 successfully retook parts of the region north of the city, but until 2016 a coordinated effort had not been launched to retake the city itself. Military actions began outside Mosul on October 16, 2016, and Iraqi military forces officially entered the city soon afterward.
What were conditions like for those fleeing the fighting?
Mosul city was the center of the battlefield, and during the conflict there were reports of ISIS using civilians as human shields or targeting them with snipers as they attempted to escape. There was also a high risk of booby traps or explosive material blocking escape routes.
Many people fled the fighting with only what they could carry and walked for several days to find safety. Photo: Cengiz Yar for Mercy Corps
As they fled, people walked as far as 40 miles or more to get away from the front lines, often barefoot or with worn-out footwear.
What is happening now?
After more than nine months of bloody conflict, the Iraqi military has retaken the city of Mosul and military operations are coming to a close.
Many families fleeing the violence were not able to bring anything with them, and they don’t have access to food, water and other essentials needed to survive. An increasing number of children are reportedly arriving to safety malnourished and in need of supplementary feeding.
Diana, her husband and their two daughters have returned to this house in East Mosul after spending months in a displacement camp. They arrived to find the doors and windows were broken and the roof was badly damaged in the fighting. Photo: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps
"People who fled their homes will need to be supported until they have a chance to go back home,” says Arnaud Quemin, Mercy Corps’ interim Iraq country director. “People who stayed and people who return will need help as they struggle to resume some sort of normal life. People won’t recover overnight just because the military operations are subsiding. “
For those arriving at or still living in camps, the summer heat has worsened conditions. Temperatures are over 110 degrees, making conditions inside tents sweltering.
And this is only the beginning of a larger humanitarian crisis.
Children draw and nap in the tents where they live with their families. Nationwide, over 3 million Iraqis have been forced from their homes by violence. Photo: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps
“The people of Mosul represent only a fraction of those in need across Iraq,” says Su’ad Jarbawi, Mercy Corps’ Middle East regional director. “Right now, approximately 3.1 million Iraqis have fled their homes and are displaced due to conflict. Millions are in need of food, medical care and improved shelter. More than 600,000 boys and girls have not been to school in at least a year.
“Mercy Corps is working hard to help those who need immediate assistance while partnering with Iraqis to rebuild their lives, survive this crisis and transform their communities for good.”
What do people need?
Iraqi communities are already overstretched as they try to help countless people who have fled the ongoing conflict. People need shelter, food and clean water in the short term—and, in the longer term, support and resources to rebuild their communities.
Nearly half the city of Mosul was destroyed—but the emotional toll is much harder to quantify. Particularly for children and teens, the impact of this prolonged crisis will be felt for years to come.
Hind, 10, has been living in a derelict, unfinished housing complex for months since fleeing the conflict with her family. Photo: Alice Martins for Mercy Corps
How is Mercy Corps helping?
Mercy Corps has been helping people in need in Iraq since 2003, and since then has provided assistance to 5 million Iraqis affected by war, violence and displacement across the country.
Mercy Corps is dedicated to meeting the urgent needs of tens of thousands of people who fled eastern Mosul and areas in the Mosul corridor. Right now, we’re distributing critical supplies to people in camps, including blankets, jerry cans, tarps and rope. In response to the crisis, we have distributed more than 18,000 household kits benefiting more than 81,000 people.
We are also providing the equivalent of $400 USD in emergency cash so displaced families can purchase what they need until they can safely return home. We believe cash distributions are the most rapid, effective and dignified manner of providing humanitarian aid, and to date, more than 12,000 families have received cash assistance. Most commonly we hear people are buying food, rent, medical assistance and medication.
Displaced people eagerly wait at the window of the distribution center to receive money to purchase urgent supplies like food, water and shelter. Photos: Alice Martins for Mercy Corps
Mercy Corps is additionally providing safe spaces for youth to socialize with other teens and develop life, job and vocational skills. At these centers, we also provide psychosocial support, helping youth cope with the stress and trauma they’ve experienced through activities such as art, sport and drama therapy. We are already welcoming displaced youth from Mosul into our youth centers in northern Iraq.
What can I do to help?
Two boys look on shortly after their arrival to a displacement camp near Erbil, Iraq, some 50 miles from Mosul. Photo: Cengiz Yar for Mercy Corps
“Given the scale, complexity and unpredictability of this conflict, we can expect to see a state of humanitarian emergency in Iraq well into the foreseeable future,” Jarbawi says.
We’re committed to helping Iraqis survive this crisis and rebuild their lives no matter how long as it takes. But we need your help. Here’s how you can join us:
Donate today. Every single contribution helps us provide even more food, water, shelter and support to Iraqi families and people in crisis around the world.
- Tell your friends. Share this story or go to our Facebook page or Twitter page and spread the word about the millions of people who need us.
- Start a campaign. You can turn knowledge into action by setting up a personal fundraising page and asking your friends and family to contribute to our efforts to help displaced Iraqis survive and rebuild.
- Sign our petition telling Congress not to cut international aid. Around the world, people are in need of lifesaving assistance. We must continue to support them.