Vital relief is still failing to reach thousands of Iraqis displaced by the government’s offensive to retake Fallujah from the Islamic State group, drawing severe criticism from some aid organisations.
Some groups said that the fact that families were stranded with no shelter and others crammed in camps with no latrines could have been avoided and was the result of a collective failure.
The speed with which Iraqi forces made gains against IS in and around Fallujah and the subsequent exodus of civilians appeared to catch the aid community flat-footed.
In one camp housing more than 2,000 people in Amriyat al-Fallujah, the only latrine stood on the edge of an open pit.
The nearest tents were barely 10ft away, children risked falling in and the stench of human excrement filled the entire camp.
“We all have a collective responsibility here,” Carsten Hansen, the regional director of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said during a visit this week.
“The international community, the donors and the Iraqi authorities (must) address this issue, because this is not reasonable for people to live through,” he said.
One limiting factor that all agree on in the response to the crisis that saw around 90,000 people flee their homes is the lack of funding.
Less than a quarter of the $584mn in projected needs for 2016 has been received so far and additional emergency funding is always hard to raise.
“One factor I would say is almost a standard in the humanitarian world, it is not easy to raise funds toward a contingency plan,” Bruno Geddo, the Iraq representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said.
Some aid workers disagree, saying that relief agencies could have done more with the funding they had and criticising the UN for not doing more to co-ordinate the effort.
“It literally seems like every aspect was overlooked, underprepared for or woefully late deploying,” said Jeremy Courtney, president of the Preemptive Love Coalition NGO that has been delivering aid to displaced civilians in the area.
“The humanitarian community has really failed in this case, largely because of short-sightedness,” said one experienced aid worker.
He said many of the international NGOs with the required skills to handle large crises were not on the ground, many having left the country a few years ago when Iraq appeared to be on the up.
“Now these NGOs want access but it takes time,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Another aid worker charged that “the UN was bordering on irrelevant in the earliest days of the battle.”
The UNHCR representative countered that the world body had done its best but acknowledged that it was not sufficiently informed of preparations for the Fallujah battle and also identified camp management as a major flaw.
The first aid worker said he had “never seen that level of mismanagement and lack of co-ordination” and added that even the most basic data on the number of displaced, their location and their needs was hard to come by.
The shortcomings of the aid operation in and around Fallujah give an alarming foretaste of the crisis that could result from an offensive on Iraq’s IS-held second city Mosul, with the potential number of displaced 10 times higher.
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