Photo: Iraqi children Oulah, 5, and Zareh, 7, play cat's cradle with a piece of twine. While children often claim that their greatest needs are toys, their parents' priority is preparing for the fast-approaching winter in which temperatures will drop below freezing, and many are protected only by tarpaulins. (©2014 Mark Kate MacIsaac/World Vision)
Chris Palusky, a vice president here at World Vision, recently traveled to Iraqi Kurdistan to meet displaced families, aid workers, government officials, and church leaders.
Today, Chris answers a few questions about his visit and provides an update on the needs of families far from home, and World Vision’s response to this crisis in northern Iraq.
During his trip, an Iraqi father named Hazem told Chris of his family’s ordeal. “We had a choice to either flee or be killed,” the father of four said. From Mosul, his family walked for five days until they found a place to stay where they would be safe from violence. Now they’re in Dohuk, facing another danger: a cold, wet winter.
The U.N. reports that more than 1.9 million Iraqis have been internally displaced by conflict since January, at least 700,000 of whom have fled to the Kurdish region in the north. Many left home with little more than the clothes on their backs. Now rains have begun and temperatures are dropping, posing a new threat.
Chris answered some questions from us about his visit. He provides an update on the needs of families like Hazem’s, now living far from home, and World Vision’s response to the crisis.
Q. Can you describe the living conditions of Hazem’s family and others?
A. Hazem and his family were camped out in a community center with many more families. Others were staying in abandoned buildings, sheds, and even tents, some of them pieced together by hand.
So many people were staying in schools that they delayed the start of the school year. Now many of those people are being moved to tent camps so that schools can open in December.
Q. What are the greatest needs of families facing winter cold?
A. Weatherproof and insulated shelter, warm clothes, shoes, blankets, mattresses, and floor mats. Also, families need stoves for heating and cooking, and kerosene for fuel.
There’ll be more demand on medical care, too, because of an increase in colds, coughs, and skin infections, especially if people don’t have hot water to bathe with and wash their clothes. More than a million children will need extra care, most because of respiratory infections during the cold weather months.
Where there’s poor drainage and sanitation, there’s bound to be an increase in diarrhea, which is so dangerous for young children.
Q. Is the humanitarian community able to meet the needs of displaced Iraqis?
A. The urgency and scale of the need pose a huge challenge. So far, the U.N. refugee agency has raised less than half of the amount they say it will take to provide adequate winterization assistance. Humanitarian organizations like World Vision are short on funding, too.
Q. What encourages you?
A. The lifesaving work — food, hygiene, personal and household items for winter protection — for children and their families in need. I’m very encouraged by what World Vision has accomplished so far in Iraq. And our outreach programs, like hygiene promotion, help families to prevent health problems, especially in children.
Plus there’s more in the works that will help families to provide for children: cash assistance, food vouchers, water and sanitation, and children’s programming. World Vision has set a goal of helping 150,000 people in Iraq.
Join us as we work to help children and families displaced by conflict in Iraq survive the coming winter. Give today!