30 Jun 2014

Handicap International - Expands team in Iraq to support most vulnerable people

Handicap International has expanded its team in Iraq in order to provide support to the most vulnerable people. Their first priority is to identify families in distress before supplying them with aid appropriate to their needs.“I came across sick people whose lives were in danger simply because they couldn’t get access treatments available just a few kilometres from where they were,” says Benedetta Di Cintio, Handicap International’s head of mission in Iraq. Benedetta spent several days visiting displaced people, thousands of whom have been fleeing fighting in the centre of the country. They include families who, in order to escape the violence, had to leave their homes within a matter of hours.

“What really struck me were the families of teachers and university professors who were taking refuge in a school, but who, just a few days before, had still been living normal lives. Among them was a little girl with epilepsy who needed medical treatment. Her mother told me that she had run out of medication and couldn’t buy any more where they were... With all of these checkpoints, large areas under the control of armed groups, and travel restrictions, vulnerable people are being put in danger. Paradoxically, in northern Iraq, the health facilities, including hospitals, are relatively well equipped.”

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The fighting that has split Iraq is starting to cause supply problems. To the south, in Mosul, some medical staff have fled, leaving many hospitals unable to run a normal service. There is also a shortage of diesel, which has cut the electricity supply, making it impossible to use medical equipment.

Handicap International’s teams are working to ensure that the most vulnerable people, to whom particular attention needs to be paid during such crises, are not forgotten. “When tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people need food, shelter and care, people with disabilities and older people need even more support because they can’t move around very easily and go out in search of assistance,” stresses Benedetta.

Two emergency workers join the relief effort in Iraq
Handicap International recently dispatched two emergency workers to join its emergency relief team in Iraq. A technical adviser also left London on Sunday to strengthen its operations. “Our emergency relief effort is expected to last several weeks, but we want to develop it into longer-term projects. And since the situation is still very unstable, we need to prepare for different scenarios to ensure we’re able to adapt to new developments.”

The backbone of the project will be provided by around fifteen people who will assist 1,500 of the most vulnerable individuals. Our mobile teams will visit families identified in the Dohuk area with the help of the network of disabled people’s organisations that Handicap International has helped to create during the 20 years it has been working in the country. These teams will aim to identify and meet the specific needs of vulnerable families. If necessary, Handicap International will also call on the support of disabled people’s organisations to identify vulnerable people across the Kurdistan region. “Identifying these people is essential,” explains Benedetta. “In some of the villages where we spent the last few days, several groups of displaced people told us that they hadn’t come into contact with any aid organisations up until now.”

According to the United Nations, 43% of displaced people have taken refuge with family or friends, 38% are living in temporary accommodation in hotels, 13% are sheltering in houses which are currently under construction, and the most vulnerable people are living in public spaces or camps that are in the process of being set up. “During the visits that I was able to make to displaced people, I saw very few injured people,” explains Benedetta. “They left their homes before the fighting started.”
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