Aid hard to come by for increasing numbers of displaced
The Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration said on Sunday that sectarian violence has displaced up to 460,000 people since February, making it increasingly difficult to provide aid to them.
The new figure is based on statistics from the Ministry of Trade, local NGOs and the United Nation's refugee agency (UNHCR).
"Nearly 200,000 Iraqis have been registered as homeless in the ministry but thousands of others are displaced or have taken refugee in relatives' homes, making their number much higher," said Mowafaq Abdul-Raoof, spokesman for the Ministry of Displacement and Migration.
According to Abdul-Raoof, some 16,000 individuals are fleeing their homes on a weekly basis to different neighbourhoods of the capital, Baghdad, or to other governorates in the country.
In addition, nearly 90,000 Kurds have started leaving Mosul, north of the capital, after sectarian violence has flared up there, according to local officials.
"Those families [of the displaced] lack assistance and require urgent aid to continue surviving because they are living under deteriorating conditions and most of them do not have access to Public Distribution System (PDS) rations," Abdel-Raoof said.
The Iraqi Ministry of Trade distributes food rations originating from the World Food Programme to almost all Iraqi households under the PDS.
The Ministry of Displacement and Migration said it was working with local NGOs to support displaced families but the constant increase in their numbers has compounded their work in the worsening security situation.
On 3 November, the International Organisation on Migration (IOM) released results of a survey in three of the country's governorates highlighting the problems encountered by displaced families. On top of the list was lack of access to water, health and education for displaced children, followed by an urgent necessity to build more shelters.
The Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) has set up small displacement camps near the capital and has warned that thousands were suffering since they do not receive assistance. The NGO said the most vulnerable were children and the elderly.
"We are trying to do our best to provide assistance but the numbers of the displaced are increasing constantly. Shortage of potable water has been the most difficult problem," said Abdel-Azim Muhammad, IRCS official in charge of Zeiobaa Camp on the outskirts of Baghdad.
"We have asked the government to help in providing potable water but the assistance offered was very little," he added.
Sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims has been escalating for the past eight months after the bombing of a Shi'ite shrine in the northern city of Samarra.
UNHCR said in a statement released on 3 November that it estimated during its last visit to Iraq that since the first Gulf War at least 1.6 million Iraqis have been displaced internally and up to 1.8 million have fled to neighbouring states.
Such are the levels of fear among the respective communities that a new phenomenon has emerged with the flight of thousands of Iraqis during the night, especially in Baghdad and Basra, as families have become increasingly afraid of militias attacking them in the dark hours.
Some families have even decided to split up and sleep in different houses to avoid entire families being killed.
"We prefer to take our children to different houses of relatives every night because in case they attack one home, the others are going to stay alive," said Hayder Sinan, 43.
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