The city of Mosul has been a battleground since October 2016. Handicap International teams in Iraq see children, women and men injured by bullets, blasts and shells on a daily basis.
In addition to Handicap International’s work in camps for displaced people, its teams work in hospitals to assist casualties with physiotherapy and psychological support sessions.
“The battle to retake Mosul began six months ago,” says Maud Bellon, coordinator of Handicap International’s emergency response. “But since February, humanitarian needs have increased tremendously. As fighting reaches the most heavily populated areas of the city, population movements increase.”
Over the past month, more than 150,000 people have fled the fighting in the western part of the city. The flow of internally displaced people keeps on increasing, with an average of 9,000 people leaving the city every day.
Amongst the newly displaced population, humanitarians are meeting high numbers of civilian casualties from west Mosul, injured by heavy shelling in the area.
Hospitals and other health facilities are unable to cope with the numbers of trauma victims coming in from Mosul by ambulance. “Although people living in the city face a high level of risk, it’s also very dangerous to flee,” explains Maud Bellon.
“Since the start of the operation in western Mosul, several hundred people have received care and treatment close to the front lines for injuries sustained in the conflict. Many were hit as they tried to leave the city.”
People like Sawsan, 12, and her family. In January 2017, they were injured in an air attack. “When the fighting started in our neighbourhood, we immediately fled Mosul,” explains Younes, Sawsan’s father. “We had almost reached safety when we were caught in an attack.
My wife, two of my children and my mother-in-law were hit by shrapnel and they rushed us to the nearest hospital. The doctors told me that Sawsan had suffered a fracture in her arm, her little brother needed an operation on his head, and my wife, who was pregnant at the time, had lost our baby.”
The family now lives in Khazer, one of the largest camps for displaced people in Iraq. Since she arrived, Handicap International has provided Sawsan with physiotherapy sessions and psychological support. The organisation is also assisting other members of her family who were injured in the attack.
Another source of concern is the number of families returning to their home town or village when the fighting ends.
“350,000 people have fled Mosul since last October, but nearly 70,000 of them have already returned home. The streets and abandoned houses not destroyed in the fighting are littered with explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices. It is still very dangerous.” adds Bellon.
In recent weeks, Handicap International has stepped up its risk education activities to ensure civilians are aware of the dangers and know what to do when they come across explosive devices.