MOSUL, IRAQ: Men, women and children stand in separate lines in the scorching sun baking west Mosul’s Baghdad Square for a turn in one of the two white mobile clinics.
For these Iraqis, displaced by fierce fighting as government forces close in on the Old City where Islamic State group militants are still entrenched, free medical care is a godsend.
Advancing Iraqi forces have retaken several neighbourhoods in west Mosul, imposing a ban on driving in the areas they recapture amid fears of possible car bomb attacks by the militants.
The ban means many Iraqis, most of whom suffer from malnutrition or chronic illnesses, have to walk miles to reach a hospital and see a doctor.
Medics from the Dary Humanitarian Organisation, backed by funds from the World Health Organization and the oil-rich Gulf state of Kuwait, have stepped in to help deliver medical care in west Mosul.
In the Mosul area, Dary has a clinic at Hammam al-Alil, a half-hour drive south of the frontline and is now providing medical assistance to those who cannot reach the health centre from six mobile clinics.
“One of the mobile clinics is for women only, run by a female doctor and equipped with ultrasound machines for pregnant women,” said Ihab Amer, a Dary staff member.
Ten Iraqi doctors work out of the mobile clinics and are assisted by 10 nurses, with dedicated drivers to take the converted vans around recently liberated neighbourhoods.
“We work from 8:00 am until 2:00 pm. The mobile clinics drive to the areas that have been liberated and those that have taken in people displaced by the fighting,” said Amer.
“The doctors see daily 1,250 patients,” in areas such as Mosul al-Jadida, Wadi Hajjar and Al-Mansur, he said.
“Malnutrition among women and children is the main issue the doctors have to deal with, in addition to patients with chronic illnesses,” he added.
Inside one the mobile clinics an elderly woman draped in black sits still on a chair as a doctor uses a stethoscope to listen to her heartbeat.
After a few seconds he takes a pen and paper and jots down a few words, handing over the prescription to his orderly who dispenses medicine to the woman free of charge.
Outside the queue is long and growing.
A young woman cradles her newborn baby girl and tries in vain to stop her crying with a pacifier.
“I have no milk to give her,” said the mother.
Iraq’s elite Counter-Terrorism Service has been spearheading a massive offensive launched in mid-October 2016 to retake Mosul, the country’s second city and last major militant bastion.
‘Not water, no jobs’
They recaptured the eastern side of the city in January and a push on west Mosul begun in mid-February has made steady progress despite fierce resistance.
According to the United Nations, a total of more than half a million civilians have been forced to flee their homes since the offensive on Mosul was launched.
The Iraqi immigration ministry has said more than 400,000 people have been displaced from west Mosul alone.
Authorities have been struggling to ease the hardships of displaced Mosul residents.
The lack of water is a major hurdle and Iraqis are complaining that even with supplies provided by the government there is never enough.
“We have had no water for two months. Not a drop. The taps are dry and our supplies have run out,” said Rai Mohamed Saleh, 21.
According to him, many families have to buy jerry cans from private suppliers, with a 17-litre plastic container costing them a steep 2,500 dinars (two US dollars).
“I am tiler by trade and Rai repairs air conditioners. But we are both unemployed. We’ve run out of money,” said Rai’s friend Omar.
The young man said that before the offensive on west Mosul he had work and earned the equivalent of $800 a month.
On the street nearby, west Mosul residents no longer ruled by the brutal regime of the Islamic State group try to get by as best as they could.
With the ban on cars in place, carts now rule the streets and used to transport goods as well as the elderly who cannot walk, while the lucky few ride bicycles or have donkey-drawn carts.