Iraq: Millions of Displaced Face Worst Humanitarian Crisis in Decades

Valérie Batselaere/MSF
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GENEVA/NEW YORK—Intense fighting has forced almost three million people to flee war-torn areas of central and northern Iraq in the last year, and many are now stranded in areas without the most basic humanitarian assistance, the international medical organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned today.

Thousands of families have fled widespread violence and shifting front lines, especially in the governorates of Anbar, Ninewa, Salah Al-Din, Kirkuk, and Diyala. Many have been displaced several times and have lost their possessions. People are living in extremely poor conditions in overcrowded shelters, including tents, unfinished buildings, religious buildings, and schools.

"Iraq is experiencing its worst humanitarian crisis of recent decades," said Fabio Forgione, MSF head of mission in Iraq. "Thousands of people, particularly in central Iraq, are not receiving the humanitarian assistance they urgently need." 

MSF teams working in areas north of Mosul and between Baghdad and Anbar report that many displaced people are living without sanitation or clean water. Local infrastructure and health facilities have been damaged and are no longer functioning, and there is a growing shortage of medical staff. Many people have no access to even basic health care, while reaching a functioning hospital can be extremely difficult in areas where it is unsafe to move.

"Despite the magnitude of people's needs, the humanitarian response has been mostly concentrated in safer areas, such as the Kurdistan region of Iraq," said Forgione. "MSF is among the very few international organizations working in other areas in northern and central Iraq where people who have fled conflict have sought refuge. Despite obvious security constraints, providing assistance here is possible, yet these areas remain neglected."

In an effort to respond to the ever-increasing needs, MSF has expanded its operations in central and northern Iraq. MSF medical teams are running mobile clinics in Kirkuk, Salah Al-Din, Diyala, Ninewa, and Baghdad governorates to provide health care to people fleeing conflict areas, as well as the local population. Teams provide general health care, with an emphasis on noncommunicable diseases, reproductive health, and mental health care.

"We are very alarmed by the prospect of violence spreading to other densely populated cities, triggering yet more displacement," said Forgione. "All stakeholders in Iraq should make all possible efforts to ensure that the Iraqi population fleeing violence has access to humanitarian assistance. Our teams are doing everything they possibly can, but they cannot effectively meet all these needs."

In 2014, in Iraq, MSF responded by launching emergency interventions to provide basic medical care and relief for displaced families in several locations. In total, MSF carried out 219,800 outpatient consultations and 17,700 individual and group mental health consultations. 

MSF remains the main health care provider in Domeez camp, Dohuk governorate, home to some 60,000 Syrian refugees. Services include sexual and reproductive health care, management of chronic diseases and mental health support. In August, MSF opened a maternity unit and had assisted 571 deliveries by the end of the year.