UNHCR Was Ready for Falluja
By Bruno Geddo
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We would like to address some factual errors in the article published today on your website: Fallujah, a Military Success But Humanitarian Failure, Could Signal Catastrophe in Mosul

It is a great shame this article appeared without the writer carefully checking the facts.

UNHCR, like other agencies, had drawn up contingency plans for Falluja. We had, for example contingency stocks of 20 000 tents and 20 000 emergency kits. We were planning new camps and upgrading existing ones in coordination with the Iraqi government authorities, who manage IDP camps in Iraq.

At the time of the mass flight of people from Falluja we had established/were constructing a total of 13 camps in three locations -- Amiriyat al-Fallujah, Habbaniyah and al Khalidiya. Basic humanitarian standards require a camp to be properly laid out to meet protection concerns and provide basic services such as latrines, showers, cooking facilities. Pitching up tents alone is not enough.

Even the most basic camps come with a price tag of $300 000 to $500 000 and our budget had been exhausted while we were appealing for fresh funds.

The speed and scale of the exodus of people from Falluja (some 60 000 plus between 16-18 June) was overwhelming -- and left all agencies scrambling to provide help, despite the best-laid contingency plans. Nevertheless, the response of agencies was immediate.

Our staff and partners have been working flat-out to ensure everyone who needs aid gets assistance.

In addition to providing shelter, we have distributed 8,372 kits of emergency relief items, helping more than 50,000 people in Anbar Governorate, since the start of government operations to retake control of Falluja on 23rd of May.

The humanitarian impact of Falluja has been learning lesson for everyone. It will inform our contingency planning for dealing with the humanitarian outcome of any government-led attempt to retake control of Mosul, which will be the mother of all battles, a city which has a far larger population, exceeding one million.

As well as our work assisting displaced families from Falluja, UNHCR is also responding to the displacement over the past three months of over 20,000 people from Mosul and surrounding districts due to ongoing military offensives there.

We have been providing assistance to families who fled Ramadi in recent months as well as families displaced since 2015, mostly in Anbar Governorate.

While the needs for assistance are greater than ever, our programme budget for IDPs in Iraq and Iraqi refugees in the region was only 21% funded (we had only received $127 m out of our total $584 programme requirements).

In the past week, we have received welcome news of more funding via the CERF (the UN Central Emergency Relief Fund) and the US government (who recently announced that they would be providing UNHCR with $20 million for the Falluja emergency response). This extra money will allow us to proceed with building five new camps and address life-saving priority needs of displaced families.

It is easy to blame "the UN". UNHCR depends on donors for its emergency work. The truth is that it is very difficult to get funds for contingency plans before disaster strikes, and by then it may be too late.

Bruno Geddo is the UNHCR Representative In Iraq.

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