Iraq aid operation from Dubai begins Filed on August 23, 2014
Iraq aid operation from Dubai begins

First UNHCR aid flight from Dubai reaches Erbil; another large shipment ready to go by sea.

‘Make aid to Iraq top priority’. This is an order from the highest officials at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The aid operation started on Wednesday as the first Boeing 747 touched down in Erbil, Iraq, with 100 tonnes of emergency aid.

On Wednesday, at Dubai’s International Humanitarian City, beyond Jebel Ali, a large shipment worth $531,300 was being readied to set sail. The shipment included 10,000 kitchen sets (for a family of five, including a wooden ladle in each set), 40,000 blankets, and 25,000 jerry cans. The shipment (of volume 16X40” containers) was to depart for Erbil from the Jebel Ali Port as part of the emergency response to the crisis in Iraq.

Iraq aid operation from Dubai begins (/assets/oldimages/aid2108a.jpg)

Volunteers of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees loading relief items meant for the internally displaced persons in Erbil, Iraq, at the International Humanitarian City warehouse in Dubai on Thursday. —KT photos by Juidin Bernarrd

The containers will go from Dubai to Bandar Abbas, Iran by sea and from there the same shipment will be sent to Erbil by road. The whole journey will take two weeks.

Mario Diaz Pajarillaga, Associate Global Supply Officer who spent three months in Iraq last year, before heading to the Philippines to help with relief work there, said, “ Erbil is a proper camp. Everything is in order.”

He remembers the chicken wire fencing, the displaced school children — mostly Syrian refugees who told him they wanted to go back to school — and an ambulance in Erbil that had bombs in it. “It was before the election. The driver and co-driver were suicide bombers,” Pajarillaga said. “They attacked the police headquarters.”

Mohammed Abu Asaker, the UNHCR’s Public Information and Communications Officer in Abu Dhabi, shared the number of IDPS (Internally Displaced People). The majority of the newly displaced are in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. An estimated 1.2 million people across Iraq have been displaced so far in 2014. These include more than 500,000 from the fighting in the Anbar region that began in January, and more than 600,000 displaced from conflicts in and around Mosul (since June) and more recently Sinjar (since early August).

As part of the effort to send aid to the region, the stockpile in Dubai — the UNHCR’s s largest globally — has increased 100 per cent in the last two years, Abu Asaker said.

“We can respond in 72 hours to 35,000 people.”

With three fork lifts and two power pallett trucks (PPTs) running the show to load 16 containers to ship out, the time taken from warehouse to container parked right outside is an efficient one minute.

Supply Assistant Sarath Kumar, wearing a white UNHCR tee, manoeuvres the PPT with ease. He drives it fast, changing gears and making the machine pick up two palletts at a time, 126kg each, 80 blankets in a pallet. Usually there aren’t people around to get in the way. Humanitarian City is near deserted. The sun doesn’t help. Sometimes it gets so hot they have to change three tee-shirts a day. The men have been at work since 8am.

Desotamena Vinodh, Supply Associate Officer for the UNHCR stockpile, says, “It takes 48 minutes to fill up one container. We have to finish all 16 containers today. By the evening we should be done.”

António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner, had said in Geneva on Tuesday, “This is a massive logistics operation to bring in relief supplies by air, land, and sea to help the hundreds of thousands of desperate people who have fled suddenly with nothing but their lives, and are now struggling to survive in harsh conditions.”


Nivriti Butalia

Nivriti is assistant editor with Khaleej Times. She brings out the features pages on Fridays and Saturdays (see 'Blogs' at, and writes a weekly slice-of-life column called Meanderings. Her Twitter handle is @butniv.

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