Interview: President of Iraqi Red Crescent Society, Dr Yassin Ahmed Abbass al-Ma'amouri

Published: 24 June 2014 16:11 CET

On 10 June, the humanitarian situation in Iraq took a dramatic turn when the security situation in the provinces of Nineveh, Salah Al-Din and Diyala deteriorated. This has resulted in a massive displacement of people in the country. Kurdistan has become the safe zone for many of the people fleeing Mosul. The population of Mosul is 3 million.

With the increasing threat of airstrikes on Mosul in the near future, there is an expectation that the numbers leaving the city will rise significantly in coming days. It is currently difficult to assess how many have been displaced, but the UN estimated some 500,000 people have been forced out of their homes to seek refuge with relatives, in schools, mosques and tents, as well as buildings still under construction.

The Iraqi Red Crescent has responded by deploying 4,000 volunteers and 18 operation rooms within its branches to ensure that people displaced by violence – or the threat of violence – have the support they need when it is needed. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is supporting the National Society with an allocation from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) of 364,000 Swiss francs.

Dr Yassin Ahmed Abbass al-Ma'amouri, the President of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society, says the situation remains challenging for thousands of people in Iraq, but that his society was working to meet the humanitarian needs of everyone affected by the ongoing crisis.

Q: How is the Iraqi Red Crescent Society responding to the humanitarian needs in Iraq?

When the city of Mosul was seized and a large number of its people started to flee in one main direction towards Kurdistan Region, Iraqi Red Crescent teams were first on the ground and started to provide food and water to the citizens. Tens of thousands of people were on the roads leading to Dohuk and Erbil cities before authorities allowed them to enter. The total number of people who received assistance exceeded 40,000.

Our volunteers will continue to provide lifesaving aid to a large number of displaced people from different parts of Iraq, including most recently, the relief operations carried out in Sinjar, the very small town which witnesses a large influx of displaced families. There are now 7,000 new families here.

Q: What is the biggest humanitarian concern at the moment?

The fears grow from a deteriorating health situation and the spread of diseases among the displaced families, especially diarrhea and intestinal colic in children, as well as depriving the majority of children of polio vaccination. On the other hand, in terms of food aid, we face a great pressure in transporting food and relief items to the displaced families, due to the inaccessibility to many areas as the roads leading to the major cities continue to be blocked.

Q: In case of any deterioration, how does your National Society plan to respond?

While our staff and volunteers continue to deliver essential services to the affected population in Anbar province, which has been witnessing an increase of violence in recent months, we are working around the clock to ensure the sustainability of our delivery and support to the ongoing situation. The support of our partners in the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement and our donors is crucial in this aspect, to ensure we are meeting the needs of the appeal we have in place. We also plan to launch an emergency appeal with the IFRC to support our ongoing operations and response to the increasing needs of the displaced families by the end of this week.

Thousands of volunteers from the Iraqi Red Crescent Society have been deployed in areas with a growing population of displaced people.
Thousands of volunteers from the Iraqi Red Crescent Society have been deployed in areas with a growing population of displaced people.

We had to suspend activities in some other areas in order to mobilize our full resources towards relief operations in the regions where displaced people sought refuge from Mosul province. The Iraqi government is also working on increasing allocations urgently to meet these extensive humanitarian needs.

We also have to take into consideration the existing influx of Syrian refugees into Iraq as well as the old internal displacement of Iraqis. This requires a serious stand to continue alleviating the human suffering and urgently support displaced families. Displacement brings further challenges beyond the immediate needs of food and shelter so we need to ensure the emotional needs of those who may have witness terrible violence are also managed as these can have a great impact on future generations.