LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Iraq faces its biggest humanitarian emergency in a generation with millions driven from their homes by intense fighting, but help is not reaching those still stranded in no-go zones for aid agencies, said Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).
Almost three million people have fled war-torn central and northern areas of the country, in particular the governorates of Anbar, Nineveh, Salah al-Din, Kirkuk and Diyala, the group said.
Successive waves of people forced from their homes over the past year are now stranded in "grey zones" with no access to the most basic humanitarian assistance, said MSF.
"Despite the magnitude of people's needs, the humanitarian response has been mostly concentrated in safer areas, such as the Kurdistan region of Iraq," said Fabio Forgione, MSF's head of mission in Iraq.
Many in the grey zones north of the city of Mosul and between Baghdad and Anbar are living in damaged buildings without sanitation, clean water, or basic healthcare, and some have been displaced several times, MSF said.
"Iraq is experiencing its worst humanitarian crisis of recent decades," said Forgione in a statement late on Monday.
The United Nations launched its 2015 humanitarian response plan for Iraq last week, asking for $500 million. It said 8.2 million Iraqis, nearly 25 percent of the population, will need some kind of humanitarian help this year.
Last month, the Iraqi government had its worst military setback in nearly a year when the Islamic State militant group seized Ramadi from a weakened Iraqi army. The capital of Anbar province is 90 km (55 miles) west of Baghdad.
Since then, government troops and allied Shi'ite Muslim militia have been building up positions around Ramadi. Many Iraqi Sunnis dislike the ultra-hardline Islamic State but also fear the Shi'ite militias after years of sectarian strife.
"We are very alarmed by the prospect of violence spreading to other densely populated cities, triggering yet more displacement," said Forgione.
Reporting by Joseph D'Urso; Editing by Ros Russell