As millions of displaced Iraqis are caught in the dead of winter, the international community has a long way to go to cover their basic needs, according to a panel testimony before Congress last week. “Indeed, we are not meeting the needs overall. The needs are huge,” admitted the State Department’s Kelly Clements, deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. “I certainly don’t think it’s realistic as we stand today. Not just for Iraq, but for Syria as well,” added Kristele Younes, director of the International Rescue Committee’s director of U.N. humanitarian affairs. Years of war, sectarian strife, and the recent invasion of the Islamic State have displaced millions in Iraq, and an estimated 5 million are in “urgent need of humanitarian aid,” according to Clements’ testimony. The onset of winter has brought a whole new set of problems to the already desperate situation. In the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq, winter temperatures average between 3 and 41 degrees Fahrenheit, and millions are in need of adequate shelter and kerosene fuel for heating. And in addition to millions of Iraqis and Syrians living with little to no protection from the cold, another 2 million are in ISIS-held territory and are currently unreachable for humanitarian aid. Before the mostly-empty Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission — members of the House had already left for Christmas break — USAID’s Thomas Staal said that while “life-saving needs are probably being met, but not adequately.” Meanwhile, in the Kurdish region alone, where many refugees came after they fled Islamic State forces in Northern Iraq, an estimated 450,000 “need winter clothes and shoes” according to the U.N. Perhaps more jarringly, the U.N. has a “funding gap” of an estimated $173 million for “winterization support that must immediately be addressed,” according to Younes’s testimony. The shelter in Kurdistan is nowhere near adequate for the refugees, either. Even if all the proposed camps were built there for “internally-displaced persons,” only “one-third” of them would be sheltered, Younes said. And new needs are surfacing daily. A running theme of the testimony was that “humanitarian needs are outpacing the capabilities of donor governments and the international humanitarian system.” While other countries are helping, their budgets are already stretched, the panel insisted. For instance, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have pitched in to help cover the “basics of food” for Iraqis, “but that’s going to run out by the end of January,” revealed Staal. He added that despite USAID’s new budget, the “needs are so huge” that it will be “burned out quickly.” “The fact that it is December and that we still are talking about winterization, and providing winter clothes and shoes is frankly a shame. We should be ashamed of ourselves,” said Younes. Supplies aside, another threat the mass displacement poses is that of instability. Andrea Koppel of Mercy Corps went so far as to call it a “ticking time bomb” since it threatens “the fragile equilibrium of these communities.”
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