Now that military operations move closer to the Old City in Western Mosul, Cordaid has stepped up its aid efforts. 2 km away from the frontline, we managed to distribute aid kits to 2250 displaced people who narrowly escaped heavy fighting. Our colleague Diyar Khosnaw was on the ground. “I hardly ever cry. This time I did. One woman had not eaten for six days.”
For the last 2 months, Cordaid and other members of the Dutch Relief Alliance have been assisting 170.000 displaced families and returnees in the vicinity of West Mosul. This work continues. To provide direct support inside the city, along the routes people take to escape, Cordaid took a truck load of lifesaving food and non-food items as to the frontline as they could.
How did you get this close to the frontline?
“We left Erbil at 8 AM and, after a detour via Gayarrah, we arrived in West Mosul at 11.30. We thoroughly checked with different authorities to find safe locations for our aid operation. Volunteers from the Iraqi Institute for Development assisted us with the distribution.”
We didn’t stay in one spot for more than 15 minutes, to minimize risks.
Diyar Khosnaw, humanitarian coordinator Cordaid
Aid workers are targets themselves. What security measures did you take?
“Many. Every step we took was closely monitored by our security advisors, one who was with us in West Mosul and one who is posted at headquarters in The Hague. We didn’t stay in one spot for more than 15 minutes, to minimize risks of being spotted by ISIS informants. Geolocations can easily be transmitted… Our truck carried no logo’s or other Cordaid visibility material. You want to stay below the radar. And we relied on constant security assessment and minute by minute information of our local partner IID. This is essential to operating in warzones. It worked out well.”
What did you distribute?
“We had 450 packages for 2250 people affected by the current fighting in West Mosul. The packages contain a hygiene kit – soap, toothpaste, sanitary pads, detergent… – highly nutrient food items like milk, fruit, biscuits, fish cans – and 12 litres of bottled water. 50 hygiene kits were for babies. They contained diapers, napkins, baby soap, bottles with teats and more necessities for babies.”
Where did you distribute them?
“Mainly along the Mosul-Baghdad road. We opted for places where people who had fled are brought together by bus after they had been registered and screened in other parts of the city, like Haramat and Al-islah an Zirai. From there, families and individuals move on to other places, IDP camps or places of relatives or elsewhere. The registration procedures are very strict, as authorities want to rule out that ISIS militants are among those who flee the city.”
You met many people who survived the extreme hardship of the besieged and last ISIS held part of West Mosul. Can you tell something about them?
“To be honest, I wasn’t prepared emotionally for what I saw. People look haggard and hungry. Some of them walk around without shoes, the children are too silent and strangely calm. One woman told me she had not eaten a thing for the last six days. Many had not been able to find drinking water. The stories of life inside the Old City are beyond imagination. A destroyed city, where people go from empty house to empty house just to find safe drinking water and something to eat. It took some families more than 10 days to go from the Old City to where we were, which is just a couple of kilometres! Hiding, running, hiding, trying to find food, protecting their children, escaping death. The Old City, someone told me, reminded him of this movie The Walking Dead.”
Unloading and distributing the aid items (photo’s: Cordaid / Diyar Khosnaw)
Will we continue these frontline distributions?
“Given the overwhelming needs, we need to continue. But we lack funding, so we are trying hard to raise money, here in Iraq as well as in the Netherlands. We wanted to show that it’s possible to organize and implement a first response aid operation as an international NGO this close to the fighting. We have done that. Hopefully this will convince donor agencies to support us. In the meantime, we go on providing protection, emergency health care and access to safe water to thousands of displaced families a bit further away from the frontline.”
The children are too silent and strangely calm. One woman told me she had not eaten a thing for the last six days.
Diyar Khosnaw, humanitarian coordinator Cordaid
Another 200.000 expected to flee West Mosul
So far half a million people were forced to flee from West Mosul since the battle began in October last year, according to UNOCHA. Now that fighting intensifies in the last ISIS held pockets, 200.000 more people are expected to flee.