The United Nations on Wednesday called its highest level of emergency for the humanitarian crisis in Iraq, where hundreds of thousands have been driven from their homes and tens of thousands have been trapped in a desert mountain by the advance of Islamic militants across the north of the country.
The declaration of a "Level 3 Emergency" will trigger additional goods, funds and assets to respond to the needs of those displaced, said U.N. special representative Nickolay Mladenov, who pointed to the "scale and complexity of the current humanitarian catastrophe."
Since June, Iraq has been facing an onslaught by the Islamic State group and allied Sunni militants across much of the country's north and west. In recent weeks, the crisis has worsened as the militant fighters swept over new towns in the north, displacing members of the minority Christian and Yazidi religious communities, and threatening the neighboring Iraqi Kurdish autonomy zone.
Tens of thousands of Yazidis fled the advance to take refuge in the remote desert Sinjar mountain range, becoming trapped for days without food or water. The U.S. and Iraqi military have dropped food and water supplies into the mountains, and in recent days Kurds from neighboring Syria battled to open a corridor to the mountain, allowing some 45,000 to escape.
Catastrophic is indeed a good way to put it. To read, for example, that Yazidi children are now supposedly drinking human blood to quench their thirst and stay hydrated is repulsive and heartbreaking at the same time. (One must seriously wonder, then, if the situation could get any worse). Perhaps this is why some Western powers are making it a priority to deliver humanitarian aid rather than arms and weapons to the region; after all, hunger and thirst will kill the hunted refugees just as easily as ISIS.
That is to say, the more men, women and children who are given access to clean drinking water -- and real sustenance -- the greater their chances of survival.