Iraq crisis: Displaced children and families struggle through winter

Displaced families fleeing violence in Iraq are in desperate need of warm shelter, food, clean water, medicine, and protection.

By Kathryn Reid and Chris Huber, World Vision U.S., with contributions from World Vision international staff
Updated January 8, 2014 at 12:00pm PST

In Iraq, displaced families fleeing violence are struggling as severe winter weather makes its way across the Middle East region.

Displaced families not prepared for bitter winter cold

It’s 36 degrees Fahrenheit today with a 50 percent chance of late snow in the northern city of Dohuk, and thousands of families are scraping together what they can to keep warm.

They need food, better shelter, warm clothing, clean water, and medicine to endure the chilling effects of their first winter away from home.

With more than 2.1 million Iraqis displaced, so many are unsure where their help will come from in this time of distress.

“It’s growing so cold…I don’t know how it can get worse,” says Zareh, 35, a mother of five. “It’s been raining every day. Everything is wet or destroyed and it gets very cold, too.”

Zareh, her husband, and their children live in a shelter protected by plastic tarps.

‘The need is great and time is short’

World Vision aid workers have reached more than 120,000 people in northern Iraq with emergency aid, including 116,000 who receive food vouchers worth $130 per family per month through January.

Thousands more received winterization kits consisting of blankets, heaters, insulated sleeping mats, and other basic household supplies.

“We’re concerned that children and the elderly, those most vulnerable, will face even greater health risks when the snow comes,” says Ashraf Yacoub, World Vision’s response manager. “We’re trying to fill gaps, distributing tarps, rope, blankets and mattresses, but, the needs are great, and time is short.”

Families like Zareh’s do not have the resources to purchase items that could ensure their family is protected from the elements in this mountainous area, where temperatures will likely drop to 5 degrees Fahrenheit this winter.

Christians, Yazidis, other minorities displaced by conflict and persecution

Christians, Yazidis, and other religious and ethnic minorities are among those by conflict and targeted persecution.

Many displaced Iraqis arrived after grueling journeys. Some were forced to move several times to avoid being caught up in the violence that has forced them to flee their homes.

“Many are moving to urban centers and community buildings that are currently being used and are quickly filling up and stretched beyond their capacity,” says Kathryn Taetzsch, leader of World Vision’s global rapid response assessment team in Erbil. “They are in desperate need of food, clean water, and medicine.”

Haider and his extended family moved from town to town after fleeing their village near Mosul, in Nineveh province. They have settled for now in a school building.

“Now we have come to Sulaymaniyah,” he says. “We left Dohuk because it was too close to the opposition-controlled area and so many people were coming every day.

“We need money, food, drugs, blankets, fuel, shelter,” Haider says.

Iraq reaches highest level of humanitarian need

About 5.2 million Iraqis need humanitarian aid. The U.N. has declared the crisis in Iraq to be at the highest level of humanitarian emergency, on par with Syria, South Sudan, and Central African Republic.

As with other disaster response efforts, World Vision is prioritizing the needs of children in this crisis, recognizing that they are always disproportionately affected by conflict and displacement.

“It is absolutely heartbreaking. Everyone we meet just wants to go home, but they can’t,” says World Vision’s Kathryn Taetzsch. “People are doing their best to take care of each other but they need so much, and they need it quickly.”

Learn more

How you can help

  • Pray for the children and families facing displacement and persecution. Pray that aid organizations like World Vision would be able to meet the needs of this vulnerable population. See our Iraq crisis prayer guide on World Vision magazine.
  • Make a one-time donation to help us respond to the crisis in northern Iraq. World Vision plans to aid 150,000 in six months. In collaboration with local partners, we are scaling up operations to respond to the immediate needs of displaced Iraqis, including preparations for winter weather and the need for food, healthcare, water, sanitation, and child protection.


  • World Vision is responding to the immediate needs of displaced Iraqis who have fled violence.
  • Displaced families are in desperate need of food, warm shelter, clean water, medicine, and protection.
  • Cold, wet winter weather is posing a hardship for families living in tents and unfinished buildings.
  • The U.N. has declared the crisis in Iraq to be at the highest level of humanitarian emergency.

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