Iraq’s Fallujah faces ‘disaster’, NGO warns

Iraq’s Fallujah faces ‘disaster’, NGO warns

The National 

16 June 2016 

Image: A woman, who fled from Fallujah because of ISIL violence, carrying her child during a dust storm at a refugee camp in Ameriyat Falluja, south of Fallujah, Iraq, June 16, 2016. Ahmed Saad/Reuters

Under fire and nearing starvation, tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians trapped in the ISIL-held city of Fallujah face a humanitarian disaster, an aid group warned on Thursday.

Tens of thousands of others who have managed to flee the city as Iraqi forces press an offensive to dislodge the extremists also find little relief on their way out.

“We have a humanitarian disaster inside Fallujah and another unfolding disaster in the camps,” the Norwegian Refugee Council said.

“Thousands fleeing the crossfire after months of besiegement and near starvation deserve relief and care, but our relief supplies will soon be exhausted,” the NRC chief Jan Egeland said.

The World Health Organisation said civilians in Fallujah also faced growing risks from outbreaks of disease.

Children in the city have not received immunisations since the extremists took control in 2014, said Ala Alwan, WHO’s regional director for the eastern Mediterranean, who visited displacement camps in Amiriyat Fallujah, a town south-east of Fallujah, on Thursday.

“The low level of immunity coupled with poor hygiene conditions raises the risk of disease outbreaks, such as measles,” he said, and hundreds of pregnant women were also in urgent need of health services.

Poor sanitation could also spread infections such as cholera and skin diseases in addition to exacerbating chronic illnesses, Mr Alwan said.

Fallujah, which lies west of Baghdad, is one of the last two major Iraqi cities ISIL controls, the other being Mosul.

For three weeks, Iraqi forces backed by US-led coalition air strikes have alternated barrages of artillery fire with an attempt to move forward in street battles against the extremists.

Attempts to retake Fallujah have been hampered by ISIL’s systematic use of civilians as human shields.

“Make no mistake: There is absolutely nothing safe for civilians fleeing Fallujah. No safe exits, no safe passage, no safe haven without risking their lives,” Mr Egeland said.

“They risk being shot at, killed by explosive devices on the roads, or drowning while crossing the river.”

According to the International Organisation of Migration, at least 48,000 people have managed to escape since the offensive was launched on May 23. The operation was preceded by a six-month siege of the city by government forces.

“Those who flee ISIL-controlled areas and manage to make it to safety will soon find out there is very little we can offer them: we are running out of food, drinking water and medical services,” the NRC said.

The group, which is working in camps for the displaced near Fallujah, said it can only offer survivors three litres of water a day — well under the 10 litres needed in temperatures nearing 50°C.

Meanwhile, forces from the Iraqi military’s elite counter-terrorism service (CTS) pushed into the Nazzal neighbourhood, consolidating their grip on the southern part of the city and working their way up to the centre.

“Our troops are operating in Nazzal, where just today we were able to destroy 15 car bombs driven by Daesh terrorists,” said Raed Shaker Jawdat, Iraq’s federal police chief.

“Our advance is excellent so morale is high. We don’t care what Daesh throws at us, we know we will win this battle,” said Jamal Abdullah, a federal police captain.

Besides the crackle of sniper fire, the whizz of rockets and the occasional thunderous air raid, the days are paced by controlled explosions of the thousands of bombs ISIL has laid across the city.

The advance of government troops has also been slowed by the presence of thousands of civilians in the city centre, most of them now concentrated in the northern neighbourhoods still firmly controlled by the extremists.

* Agence France-Presse and Reuters


© 2016, The National 

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