As you will have seen in the headlines this week, the military offensive on Mosul has begun and while discussions and questions may circulate about what this means for the future of ISIL, for us at Unicef, the focus has to be on children.
Pictures of families fleeing the conflict in Mosul have become commonplace over the last couple of weeks c.Unicef/Soulaiman
Estimates put the number of civilians living in Mosul at 1.2-1.5 million and it is thought that almost half are children, who may require lifesaving assistance as the conflict intensifies over the coming days and weeks.
Already since May of this year, conflict to the south and east of Mosul has forced the displacement of more than 200,000 people who have fled south in what is being called the 'Mosul corridor', and this is one of the anticipated route for hundreds of thousands more people who will flee as the violence escalates.
Remember the scenes of thousands of people coming out of the liberated Fallujah? The numbers coming out of Mosul are likely to be many times more than that.
Debaga, is one refugee camp along the Mosul Corridor, where already thousands of refugees have arrived. The camp has swelled from 5,000 to over 30,000 in less than six months and both government and aid agencies are already facing the daily struggle to provide shelter, clean water, food and other basic services to children and families. Sadly, this demand is only likely to increase.
Omar is one child already in Debaga who has felt the full force of the conflict in Iraq. For two years, Omar, 15, and his family lived under the harsh rule of armed groups in his village of Haji Ali. When the Iraqi army advanced to retake the nearby city of Qayyarah last August, his family were dubbed government sympathizers and expelled from their ancestral home.
"We walked about a kilometre to the banks of the Tigris and waited there until the battle was over. We cannot go back home because the village still comes under fire."
Despite now living in a refugee camp, Omar now spends his mornings in a Unicef supported child friendly space and reads books in the afternoon. He is learning to read and write English and has hopes of one day becoming a translator.
There are many more stories like Omar's to come, however, and as more and more people flee Mosul, they are only likely to get more harrowing.
At Unicef, colleagues in Iraq have been preparing for this moment for the last couple of months and are ready to meet the exodus coming out of Mosul. We have enough water, showers, latrines and hygiene kits for over 150,000 people, with plans to increase this to 350,000 over the next few weeks and teams of psychosocial carers on standby so that the needs of children are met as much as possible.
One of the things we are particularly worried about is immunization. For the past two years none of the children who have been in Mosul have been immunized against polio or measles. An outbreak of either one of these deadly diseases could be catastrophic and this is why we have deployed teams to immunize refugee children fleeing the city.
Although we have done as much as possible to ensure that these services are ready to be delivered as quickly as possible, ultimately this is a political crisis, and groups on all sides of the conflict need to ensure that they respect civilians, especially children's, lives . One of our biggest fears is that children will be used as human shields and exposed to excessive force and violence as the conflict escalates.
This is not acceptable, and so alongside humanitarian interventions, at Unicef we continue to advocate on behalf of these children at the highest level to try and ensure their safety and wellbeing.
It's not easy though and we need your help. Unicef's humanitarian appeal in Iraq already has funding appeal of £114 million but more money is desperately needed over the coming days, weeks and months.
To find out more please visit http://unicef.uk/mosul
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