MOSUL // Another 200,000 residents are expected to flee the battleground city of Mosul in coming weeks as aid agencies struggle to cope with exodus that has reached an unprecedented level, the United Nations said on Thursday.
“The numbers of people fleeing their homes in western Mosul are overwhelming,” said Lise Grande, UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq.
“We are talking about very large numbers of families who are leaving everything behind. They are fleeing under very difficult circumstances. Many are food insecure and haven’t had access to safe drinking water and medicines for weeks or months,” she said.
Iraqi forces launched a massive offensive seven months ago to retake the country’s second city from the ISIL, which seized it in June 2014.
More than 700,000 people have since been displaced, half a million of them since mid-February when Iraqi forces moved on the more densely populated west side of the city.
The government, the UN and its partners have been setting up camps around Mosul to assist increasingly desperate civilians, including some who faced starvation and were used as human shields by the extremists.
But the aid community is struggling to cope with the latest influx, Ms Grande said.
“The numbers of people who are moving are now so large, it’s becoming more and more difficult to ensure civilians receive the assistance and protection they need,” she said.
She warned that another 200,000 civilians who are still trapped in the Old City of Mosul, where ISIL fighters have focused most of their resources ahead of a bloody last stand, could flee in the coming weeks.
Ms Grande urged donors to ramp up support for the Mosul aid effort, which has been massively underfunded so far.
“Hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake,” she said.
Civilians are also bearing the brunt of the battle against ISIL in neighbouring Syria, where at least 15 civilians people died when the group attacked two government-held villages in Hama province.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 27 pro-government fighters were also killed in the attack on the attack on Aqareb and Al Mabujeh villages.
The Britain-based monitoring group said another 10 bodies were yet to be identified as government fighters or local residents, while ISIL lost 15 fighters in the dawn attack.
* Agence France-Presse