The United Nations said on Thursday another 200,000 people could flee their homes in Mosul as Iraqi forces push into the last districts held by ISIS militants.
UN humanitarian coordinator Lise Grande said nearly 700,000 people have already been displaced from Mosul since the start of the campaign to retake the city last October, seeking refuge either with friends and relatives or in camps
Since then, Iraqi authorities and aid agencies have been struggling to cope with a surge in displacement.
“The numbers of people fleeing their homes in western Mosul are overwhelming,” Grande said in a statement.
“We are talking about very large numbers of families who are leaving everything behind. They are fleeing under very difficult circumstances. Many are food insecure and haven’t had access to safe drinking water and medicines for weeks or months,” she said.
Backed by a US-led coalition, Iraqi forces have dislodged ISIS from all but about 12 square km (5 square miles) of the city and are seeking to claim victory before the holy month of Ramadan in less than two weeks.
The militants, however, still control the Old City, where they are expected to make their last stand in the densely populated, narrow streets that are impassable for armored vehicles.
“As military operations intensify and move closer to Mosul’s Old City area, we expect that up to 200,000 more people will flee,” Grande added, describing the figures as “alarming”.
The Iraqi government and humanitarian aid agencies are rushing in supplies, she said, but because of the large number of displaced, “it’s becoming more and more difficult to ensure civilians receive the assistance and protection they need.”
Grande called on donors to ramp up support for the Mosul aid effort, which has been massively underfunded so far.
“Hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake,” she said.