Baghdad: More than 180,000 people have fled west Mosul as Iraqi forces battle to retake it from Daesh group, the Iraqi government said on Monday.
Some 111,000 have sought shelter in 17 nearby camps and reception centres while many others have stayed with relatives, the ministry of displacement and migration said.
Iraqi forces backed by an international US-led coalition launched a drive to retake west Mosul on Feb.19 after seizing the city's eastern side the previous month.
They have since taken control of several districts including parts of the densely-populated Old City.
The Iraqi government says it can accommodate a further 100,000 displaced people in camps, but the United Nations says the numbers could rise way beyond that.
"Humanitarian agencies are bracing for the possibility that an additional 300,000-320,000 civilians may flee in coming weeks," the UN's aid coordination agency OCHA said.
The UN's humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, Lise Grande, said aid groups had spent months preparing for the Mosul operation.
"But the truth is that the crisis is pushing all of us to our limits," she said.
The aid operation for western Mosul is "far larger and far more complex" than in the east, she said.
"The main difference is that tens of thousands of families stayed in their homes in the east," she said. "In the west, tens of thousands are fleeing."
"If the number of people leaving the city increases faster than we can construct new plots, the situation could deteriorate very quickly," she added.
Iraq's second city, Mosul had an estimated population of two million before Daesh overran it in a lightning June 2014 assault.
Mohammed Ali and his family, carrying all their worldly possessions in a few bags, had been on the road for 18 hours since fleeing their home in a Daesh-held area of Mosul.
They hoped to find shelter at a camp. So far, they have had no luck.
"We tried at Hammam Al Alil camp," about 35 km (22 miles) south of Mosul, the 50-year-old said, flanked by 20 relatives including sons and grand-nephews and nieces. "It was full."
A bus had brought them from there and unloaded them a few hundred metres (yards) from a Kurdish peshmerga checkpoint east of Mosul and on the way to the sprawling Khazer and Hasan Sham camps, which are also crowded.
"Hopefully we can get to Khazer. We just need to get through the checkpoint," Ali said.
Ali's story is becoming a familiar one.
Displaced Iraqis are streaming out of western Mosul at a quickening pace as fighting intensifies in the city. They are arriving at camps to find there is no room, forced to get back onto buses or hire taxis to reach other areas.
Some head for new camps being built to try to cope with the exodus, but with poor living conditions, many western Mosul residents make instead for the east side of the city, which was recaptured from Daesh in January, to stay with relatives or find shelter in half-finished buildings.
The US-backed Iraqi offensive to drive Daesh out of Mosul, their last major stronghold in the country, has confined the militants to about half of the western side.
Iraq's immigration minister, Jassim Mohammed, said on Monday the number of displaced people from both sides of of the city since the start of the campaign had reached 355,000.
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) recently opened a new camp that filled up within a week and is building another in Hammam Al Alil to received thousands more families.
Hammam Al Alil has become the main transit point for the Mosul displaced. At the current camp's main entrance, hundreds of Iraqis wait in the mud and cold, crouching by small fires, using porta-cabin toilets and asking which buses will take them onwards.
Taxi drivers tout for business, many shouting "Mosul, Mosul!" - to take people back to the eastern side of the city.
SHELTER IN EAST
Eastern Mosul is a preferable destination for many who have relatives there.
"In the rubble there is nothing. If there is water maybe we will go back. We're heading to the east we have family. We can't stay in those camps," Bushra
Mohammed Ali, who left the west with his sister and two daughters, said on Monday.
A woman named Um Tahseen, who had fled the Jidida district, said her family had gone 11 days without food.
"The militants, they beat people they don't like or kill them. Why would we go to the camps and face more hardships there. We will go to the east. Maybe there is no water there either but a least we have family."
In the centre of eastern Mosul on Sunday, many young men wandering through a market said they were from western Mosul, crammed into homes with anywhere from seven to 15 relatives with whom they had fled.
Outside the Nabi Yunus shrine, 30-year-old Waddah, who had fled the Islamic State-held Old City in the west with his two wives, two children and his brother's family, worked shovelling debris into a skip.
"I came to stay with my cousin in Sumer district," he said.
"It's not ideal - we're 15 people cramming into his home and into an out-house - but it's better than being in the cold, crowded camps," Waddah said.