Living conditions in west Mosul, where jihadists are hunkering down among 750,000 Iraqi civilians, are deteriorating fast and a source of great concern, the UN's top aid official said Wednesday.
"We are extremely concerned about the rapid deterioration of the conditions in west Mosul," United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Iraq Lise Grande told reporters.
"Families are in big trouble, half of the shops have been closed," she said while visiting Hasansham, a displacement camp between Mosul and Arbil, the nearby capital of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region.
Iraqi federal forces have almost completely encircled Mosul, whose east side they retook from the Islamic State group last month.
Four months into a huge offensive to reconquer the jihadists' last major stronghold in Iraq, they are now poised to launch an assault on the city's west bank.
Slightly smaller than the east side but densely populated, the west bank is thought to shelter around three quarters of a million people who have been living in siege-like conditions for weeks. 1
The battle for Mosul (photo by: Simon MALFATTO, Thomas SAINT-CRICQ, Sabrina BLANCHARD/AFP)
A smaller than expected number of people fled their homes when elite Iraqi forces punched into east Mosul three months ago but Grande said the aid community was planning for larger displacement from the west.
According t o the UN, nearly 200,000 people have been displaced since the October 17 start of the operation to retake Iraq's second largest city.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that 46,000 of them have since returned to their homes.
"We expect as many as 250,000 civilians may leave western Mosul," Grande said Wednesday during her visit to Hasansham camp.
She said there were currently 20 displacement camps and emergency sites around the city and added that the UN and its partners were "rushing to construct new sites south of Mosul."