LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Shelter, food and medical care are urgently needed in Iraq, which faces a 'crisis on top of a crisis' after an onslaught by Islamist militants forced 500,000 people to flee, aid workers said.
In the past week, black-clad fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have seized the north of the country, including Iraq's second biggest city, Mosul, in an assault that threatens to unleash all-out sectarian war.
International Medical Corps said up to 300,000 people were seeking safety north of Mosul in Erbil and Dohuk - areas struggling to cope with an influx of refugees from neighbouring Syria and large numbers of internally displaced Iraqis.
"Hospitals in Erbil are at capacity and struggling to absorb the influx of Iraqis in need of healthcare," the medical charity said on Tuesday, adding that it was worried about the heightened risk of cholera or measles due to poor living conditions.
Both the British Red Cross and Christian Aid have launched emergency appeals for Iraq in the past 24 hours, while Irish charity GOAL said it had sent a team to northern Iraq to assess what it could do to help.
"This is a crisis on top of a crisis," said Christian Aid's humanitarian programmes manager, Adrian Ouvry.
"Over 220,000 Syrian refugees are already in northern Iraq trying to escape the fighting in their own country. These emergencies are on a huge scale. There is an overwhelming need for help," he said in a statement.
U.N. Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said there were shortages of shelter, food, water and fuel in northern Iraq and hospitals in Mosul were operating at limited capacity.
She said U.N. officials were in discussions with the Iraqi authorities on releasing food stocks held by Iraq.
"We also have stocks in Iraq that ... are slated for Syria, which can be utilised in the short term," Amos told a news conference in Geneva on Monday, adding that it was too early to say what impact the military action would have on aid to Syria.
(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Reuters, in Geneva)