UN prepares for exodus as Iraqi forces make headway into west Mosul
Smoke rises after a rocket landed in the middle of the Iraqi forces' position during a battle against IS south of Mosul on February 19. Photograph: (AFP)
The United Nations on Sunday rushed to build more shelters ahead of an expected mass displacement as as Iraqi forces launched their offensive to retake west Mosul,the last major stronghold IS has in Iraq.
"We are racing against the clock to prepare emergency sites south of Mosul to receive displaced families," the UN's humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, Lise Grande, said in a statement, AFP reported.
"The humanitarian operation is already stretched. We are trying to reach more than six million people across Iraq who need help. We don't have all of the funding we need and many partners are facing major capacity constraints," she said.
On Sunday, Iraqi federal forces launched a new phase of the four-month-old offensive to retake Mosul.
Forces recaptured at least five villages and were heading towards the airport, as part of a push which is aimed at retaking the city's west.
Iraqi government forces had cleared the eastern side last month, and while fewer people than estimated fled their homes, the UN said a total of 217,000 people have been displaced since the Mosul operation started on October 17.
The UN said a total of 57,000 had already returned to their homes.
Around 350,000 children are currently trapped in western Mosul, Save the Children warned on Sunday, AFP reported.
"Iraqi forces and their allies, including the US and UK, must do everything in their power to protect children and their families from harm, and avoid civilian buildings like schools and hospitals as they push deeper into the city," said the London-based charity's Iraq country director, Maurizio Crivallero, AFP reported.
Crivallero added that escape is not an option for most families, who not only risk summary execution by fighters from IS, sniper fire and landmines but are also running out of basic necessities like food, water and medicine.
"This is the grim choice for children in western Mosul right now: bombs, crossfire and hunger if they stay or execution and snipers if they try to run," Crivallero said in a statement, AFP reported.
He added, "Safe escape routes for civilians must also be established as soon as possible."
(WION with inputs from AFP)