9 January 2015
As snowstorms grip the Middle East, the president of the Iraqi Red Crescent has called for urgent help for those forced from their homes by violence.
Dr Yaseen Abbas stressed the impact of freezing weather on children and the elderly living in flimsy shelters.
He made the call during a visit to the British Red Cross. The organisation is helping the Iraqi Red Crescent Society bring food, water, blankets, shelter and medical care to people forced to flee in search of safety.
Dr Abbas singled out tented camps and other informal settlements in Dohuk and Erbil, areas particularly badly hit by the winter weather, where conditions are “miserable”.
He said: “The recent drop in temperature has had a very bad impact, especially for older people and children – they are easily affected. They need urgent support.”
The Red Crescent has been giving aid and support across Iraq since the country’s conflict escalated in June 2014. Staff and volunteers have faced challenges such as blocked roads and sever weather - from the current snowstorms to summer temperatures of more than 45 degrees. Dr Abbas said: “The Iraqi Red Crescent has a long history of responding to crisis, but still this wasn’t easy to manage.”
Despite facing huge risks and working in highly insecure areas, none of the Red Crescent’s staff or volunteers were killed last year. Dr Abbas said this largely reflected the standard of their training and the fact they are trusted and respected by communities across Iraq.
A year of huge challenges
The nature of the conflict means the Red Crescent has to respond to large waves of people fleeing the violence at very short notice. Dr Abbas revealed that in one location last year just three Red Crescent staff were challenged to provide support for urgent relief for 40,000 new arrivals with little warning. They quickly recruited dozens of volunteers who helped them give out food and water to those in need.
He added that at one point the situation in another area was so desperate, and access so difficult, air drops were used to supply vulnerable people with food, clothes, first aid kits and 750,000 bottles of water.