Reuters International

Displaced Iraqis, who had fled to Syria to escape the violence in Mosul, arrive in Kirkuk as they return to Iraq September 10, 2016. REUTERS/Ako Rasheed


By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) - More than a million people could flee the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul when the Iraqi army launches an assault on the city, the United Nations said, warning it lacked facilities to house about 400,000 of them.

Bruno Geddo, chief of the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR in Iraq, said Emergency camps would include 18,000 tents in open areas, and those not lucky enough to get a tent might get one of 50,000 emergency shelter kits.

“An emergency shelter kit is a sack of 15kg which includes hammer, rope, wire, nails, plastic sheeting and timber. Each will be used to build a rudimentary shelter,” Geddo told a news conference in Geneva.

A further 30,000 will get "sealing off kits" - emergency kits with a plank of plywood that can be used to create some privacy in a communal shelter. The U.N. is also procuring 100,000 kits with core relief items, including blankets, jerry cans, buckets and kitchen utensils.

Geddo said the battle for Mosul, seized by Islamic state as it swept across Iraq two years ago, was expected to begin as soon as October, and most probably by the end of 2016.

"Mosul has the potential to be one of the largest manmade disasters for many, many years...More than a million could be displaced as a result of the forthcoming offensive."

The U.N. expects to have to help at least 700,000 with shelter, food and water, and UNHCR is building or planning 11 camps with lighting, piped water and 20,000 family plots - spaces for a six-person tent demarcated by bricks to keep scorpions and snakes out.

The Iraqi government plans camps to accommodate up to 150,000 more. But that leaves about 400,000 places lacking, and the U.N., lacking time and available land, is "frantically" preparing to set up emergency camps close to the battle.

The U.N. said in July it would need $284 million (£218.5 million) to prepare for the battle and up to $1.8 billion to deal with the aftermath.

UNHCR's needs are still only 33 percent funded.

"It is too late if you receive funding when the crisis hits the television screen," Geddo said. "Each family plot in a UNHCR camp costs $2,000. We are short of 6,200 family plots, $15 million. It’s not cheap."

Things could be even worse if Islamic State fighters decide to make a "last stand" and there is massive destruction in the city, or to use civilians as human shields as they did in the battle for Falluja in June, he said.

Geddo said it was not his remit to deal with any captured Islamic State fighters, but he said the U.N. had received assurances that they would be treated as prisoners of war.

(Reporting by Tom Miles)


 Reuters International