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The number of civilians displaced by violence in Iraq's restive Anbar province continues to climb. With a deteriorating security situation it is also becoming harder for humanitarian actors to reach those in need.
As of today, the Iraqi government says 434,000 men, women and children have fled their homes since fighting escalated in January this year. However, the full scale of the displacement from this under-reported conflict is unknown, as the Iraqi authorities have had to suspend registration over the past month because of insecurity. UNHCR believes the current figure is now close to 480,000.
Iraq's new displacement crisis began in January with fighting between government forces and rebels in eastern Anbar. It has continued in various waves as the fighting locales shifted within the governorate. There was further displacement last month when fighters deliberately breached a dam in Anbar's Abu Ghraib district, flooding the area and forcing some 72,000 Iraqis from their homes. While the floodwaters have subsided, and people are returning to their homes, there are now health and recovery worries. Access to clean water is a pressing concern, because the flooding damaged water treatment plants. Local officials say 28 tanker truckloads of potable water are being delivered to the area every day, but this is only meeting 50 per cent of needs. There are also fears about further civilian flight from the city of Fallujah. Recent shelling of the city has sparked new displacement and hit a city hospital and water plant there, making life in the city and future recovery more difficult.
Our field teams report that many displaced people are struggling to cope in desperate conditions, spread out across Iraq. The highest concentrations of displaced people are in the Anbar and Salah al-Din governorates, followed by Erbil, Kirkuk, Sulaymaniyah and Baghdad. The more fortunate are living with friends and relatives, but others are in tents, schools, unfinished buildings and other types of communal shelters. In Anbar governorate alone, where there are almost 300,000 displaced people, more than two-thirds are currently living in schools.
Displaced people tell us housing stock is limited, and increasingly expensive. Most are without income and are going into debt to pay for essential needs. Families say access to housing and food is a top priority. While UNHCR has provided emergency relief kits including soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste and other items reaching more than 48,000 people (8,200 families) and emergency cash assistance to 3,000 of the most vulnerable people (500 families), this represents a fraction of what is needed. Shortly, we will begin restoration work on some of the shelters; adding doors and windows to abandoned buildings where people live.
We urgently need to ramp up our response which is difficult for three reasons. We have deteriorating security in Anbar hindering access to people in need; the displaced are spread out across much of the country; and donor support is lacking. A UNHCR Special Appeal for US$ 26.4 million launched in March is currently only 12% funded. Better funding is critical to help those who are displaced now, and when they return home in the future.
For more information on this topic, please contact:In Geneva: Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120 In Geneva: Ariane Rummery on mobile +41 79 200 7617 In Baghdad: Ned Colt on mobile: +962 780 917 4173