I've walked the Nile, trekked the Himalayas and seen combat in Afghanistan, but nothing quite prepared me for the devastation I saw when I went to Sinjar city and the refugee camps outside Mosul in Northern Iraq last year. Burnt out cars, flattened villages, homes lying in ruins and tented camps were spreading as far as the eye could see.
This was before the military operation to retake Mosul from ISIS began. Now over half a million people have been displaced and the risks for children continue to escalate in the western part of the city.
Reports from colleagues at Unicef detail children being killed, injured and used as human shields - violence that no one, let alone a child, should be witness to.
The headlines and pictures in the papers paint an image of a dire situation inside Mosul. Residents are reporting that they've exhausted their savings and aren't able to buy any food, infrastructure damage has left limited access to clean water and hospitals, and health centres are overloaded. There are few options to escape the horrors of war. Booby trapped streets, sniper fire and artillery put lives in danger every single day.
When they can and do flee, many of these children and families end up in camps like Domiz and Harsham which I visited last year, but the numbers are constantly increasing.
The people I met once had good jobs, salaries and owned their own homes before ISIS came and took everything from them. Their children went to school, they played in the streets outside their homes and imagined a future - now they will have to rebuild everything.
Organisations like Unicef are doing all they can to deliver aid inside Mosul as well as in the refugee camps surrounding the city. Supported by international partners and donors like the UK Government, Unicef is trucking 1.8 million litres of water into the western part of the city every day. They are also sending medical kits and supplies to hospitals and monitoring the nutritional status of children fleeing, providing supplementary food and referring children to hospitals where needed. And as I saw for myself, creating safe, child-friendly spaces where children have the chance to paint, draw, play and just be children.
As we mark three years of Isis devastation in Iraq, and watch as the offensive on Mosul unfolds, the question is what comes next? For children and families living in camps the retaking of Mosul by Iraqi forces from ISIS won't be the end of their journey. Even if they're able to return to their homes, the process certainly won't be easy, there will be much to rebuild physically but also emotionally and politically; and for children, the impact of what they have been through will live with them for the rest of their lives.
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