Sitting in his taxi, Ghasan Ali talked about how life used to be in Saadiya, an Iraqi town about 100 miles north of Baghdad, before it fell under the control of ISIS more than two years ago. The occupation lasted about nine months—long enough for Saadiya to see most of its water system destroyed along with a host of its schools and homes. Many people fled, Ali among them, and when he returned, everything in his house had been stolen.
“Before ISIS, there were salaries, and people used to have jobs,” said Ali, whose name has been changed to protect his identity. He has been trying to eke out a living by ferrying an occasional rider in his taxi, and sometimes he goes for a week without work. “Right now, people are displaced and living in incomplete houses and buildings.”
For countless families in and around Mosul, the second most-populated city in Iraq, they too may soon be struggling to live in the wreckage left as ISIS retreats. In mid-October, Iraqi forces began an offensive to recapture the city and its surrounds from the militants. Already, tens of thousands of people have fled the new round of fighting, some under skies black with smoke from burning oil wells set ablaze by ISIS.
“We just came from the dead,” a 25-year-old woman said as she arrived, with her 10-day-old baby, at Hassansham camp about 31 miles east of Mosul. “It was like a hell. A lot of our neighbors have been killed. We can’t believe we are safe now.”
Another woman described how an ISIS suicide bomber blew himself up outside her home in the suburb of Hai Samar, killing her husband and badly burning her and her 9-year-old daughter.
Newly displaced, they join more than three million others in the country driven from their homes by conflict. And their ranks are expected to swell: Aid workers fear the fighting around Mosul could force nearly a million more people to seek safety elsewhere.
Since January, Oxfam has been preparing for that scenario. Key to the effort has been tapping the expertise of local partner groups—part of Oxfam’s new mission to shift the dynamics of humanitarian response and localize disaster aid, making it faster, more efficient, and sustainable.As the offensive unfolds, the work of local first responders—people from the community who know the place best—will be essential in meeting the emergency needs of countless families.
“It’s very important to build local capacity because these are the people who will be doing humanitarian response in the future,” said Tom Robinson, Oxfam’s Iraq-based emergency preparedness manager. “We bring technical expertise and materials, and they bring access to local authorities and exceptional knowledge of the area.”