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Press Release

As world marks World Refugee Day, IRC fears new health emergency in Iraq

The specter of a health crisis is spreading among Iraqi families and communities already traumatized by conflict and displacement. As soaring summer temperatures set in, the IRC is concerned that communicable and potentially deadly illnesses children are particularly susceptible to, such as diarrhea, will take hold in the squalid environments in which displaced Iraqis are living. To make matters worse, the threat of polio and measles looms over newly displaced communities that do not yet have access to basic sanitation services.

“Homes hosting Iraqis fleeing from violence are becoming overcrowded and some don’t have good access to clean water and sanitation, said IRC’s senior health advisor Camilo Valderrama. “Add the scorching heat and you have a recipe for a the outbreak of disease like diarrhea or measles.”

In Mosul, measles is endemic and outbreaks are likely if people are not vaccinated early enough.  Polio is also a growing threat, with increased cases caused by the crisis in Syria, where there has been a lack of vaccinations.

Since the beginning of the crisis, IRC visited over 300 Iraqi families comprising over 2,000 individuals in 17 villages across Shaykhan district who have been staying in the homes of relatives and friends.

In one house, the IRC found 14 families comprising 60 people living together, with seven children under the age of 5 suffering from diarrhea – one of them requiring immediate medical attention. There were also adults suffering diabetes and hypertension – diseases that require consistent medication.  

The IRC is providing water to 5,000 people who have fled to Dohuk, and giving cash grants to help 7,000 new arrivals to pay for their basic needs. In addition, a network of community health and hygiene workers are identifying and referring children for vaccination and reporting suspected cases of communicable diseases so that early measures can be taken to prevent its spread. The IRC is coordinating with health authorities to provide medicines for diabetics and people with hypertension.  

Since Iraq’s latest displacement crisis began last week, hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes and many have sought sanctuary in the Kurdish region of Iraq. Some of most vulnerable displaced Iraqis, unable to live with friends or family and without the means to rent their own accommodation, are staying in the newly-built Germawa camp, located between Mosul and Dohuk. Germawa currently hosts around 60 families, with more arriving each day, but does not yet have an adequate water supply or toilets. There also is not enough food. 

The IRC urges the international community to mobilize more rapidly and provide assistance to the vulnerable displaced, and the families who are generously hosting them, in order to stave off a health catastrophe.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 26 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.