UN urges winterization assistance for displaced Iraqis before cold weather sets in

Neill Wright, OCHA’s acting Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, confirmed today that with winter closing in, an estimated 800,000 people remain in “urgent need” of shelter assistance and at least 940,000 lack essential household and other life-sustaining items. “Efforts are well underway to prepare for winter, but much more is needed,” Mr. Wright said in a press release. “The authorities and the humanitarian actors need more resources urgently to ensure wider coverage.”Iraq has been convulsed by increasing instability over the past several months amid an ongoing offensive by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), unleashing wave after wave of internally displaced persons and refugees. Just last week, an ISIL offensive against the Iraqi town of Hit prompted an estimated 180,000 people to flee the violence. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), many of those displaced were now sheltering with relatives and friends as well as in schools, mosques and public shelters already overwhelmed by Iraq’s mounting population of displaced persons.At the same time, the agency warned, tens of thousands of Syrian refugees escaping the ISIL onslaught on the Syrian border town of Kobani were expected to cross into Iraq from Turkey, citing civil unrest, the high cost of living, difficulties with aid, and the desire to join family members already living in the Kurdistan region of Iraq among their reasons for entering the country. They join the estimated 1.8 million citizens internally displaced throughout the country in 2014 alone. Mr. Wright voiced particular concern about those displaced living in the open. In one recent assessment, for instance, some 80,000 internally displaced families in the Kurdistan region of Iraq remained in “urgent need of winterization assistance,” especially as temperatures in that area can drop to -16 degrees Celsius during the winter. OCHA explained that winterization activities would include the distribution of core relief items such as blankets, quilts, kerosene, heating stoves, jerry cans, as well as thermal floor mats and insulation to make tents warmer and more resistant to the harsh winter conditions, especially in the northern highlands.