Displaced Iraqis from the Yazidi community cross the Iraqi-Syrian border at the Fishkhabur crossing, in northern Iraq, on August 11, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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For the desperate of Iraq there is no quick fix, but we can help alleviate some of the suffering

We must not find ourselves wondering how this humanitarian crisis spiralled further and further out of control.

The news from northern Iraq is terrifying in detail, and staggering in scale. No food, no water, no shelter, tens of thousands uprooted by a murderous mob of Islamic State (IS) terrorists, too many out of contact and out of reach. At times like these the UK must play a leading role in helping those in need. Our capacity to assist in humanitarian crises is immense – we must now put the full force of that experience and expertise behind the Iraqi people, for many of them are in desperate need. 

After a week of heightening violence in Ninewa Province, northern Iraq, IS have been gaining ground - leaving hundreds of thousands displaced, in a region already home to almost a quarter of a million Syrian refugees and nearly 400,000 internally displaced Kurds.  

On 3 August, IS fighters took control of the districts of Sinjar and Tel Afar. The chaos that ensued saw 200,000 Yazidi and Christians forced from their homes. Four days later, IS fighters took Qaraqosh, the largest Christian town, and its surroundings forcing a further 200,000 to flee. Mount Sinjar is now home to 50,000, half of whom are children. The reports that have emerged of mass graves, beheadings and systematic rape are not easy to independently verify but the signs of a man-made humanitarian crisis are undeniable. 

President Obama was right to authorise air strikes to prevent the slaughter of these terrified and vulnerable people and to support the humanitarian air drops of food and water, and Labour support that action. The humanitarian priority now has to be providing immediate life-saving assistance including water, food, shelter and medicine for those who have been forced to flee their homes. This government is right to use the RAF to deliver essential supplies to the Yazidis, and they are right to release an £8m package of support for those who have fled IS terrorists. But there’s more we can do.

First, given the grave concerns regarding the imminent danger faced by minorities in Iraq, the UK Government should focus their response on the issue of discrimination against minority groups. All of those in need must have equal access to protection and aid.

Second, additional capacity and funding is desperately needed – the UK must not just do our bit, but invest real political capital in rallying the international community to fund urgent support the people of Iraq.

And third, the UK must lead international efforts to provide that assistance and funding through all means available, including through the use of any appropriate UK military capabilities.

Further, we have to make the protection of women and girls a priority - as the crisis drags on, the position of women and girls becomes all the more desperate. Around 250,000 women, including nearly 60,000 pregnant women, are in urgent need of care; around 20,000 women and girls face increased risk of sexual violence. The international community has to do all it can to ensure they are protected.

And coordination is key – northern Iraq is in chaos, access to IS areas is impossible, assessing the rest of the region impossibly complex. The continuous movement of displaced peoples and the all pervading fog of war mean many have not received the water, food and medicine they desperately need. Clear command and control of resources is difficult but vital. Firm leadership structures must be established and followed, and funding gaps can identified, assessed and addressed.

No-one doubts that the situation in northern Iraq is grave, and the truth is for those in desperate need is that there is no quick fix, no magic wand, but we can help alleviate some of the suffering. But we must not find ourselves wondering how this humanitarian crisis spiralled further and further out of control. With the resources and capabilities at the world's disposal these people cannot be abandoned. 

Jim Murphy is shadow international development secretary and Labour MP for East Renfrewshire

HEINZ BAUMANN/GALLERY STOCK
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With the BBC Food’s collection under threat, here's how to make the most of online recipes

Do a bit of digging, trust your instincts – and always read the comments.

I don’t think John Humphrys is much of a chef. Recently, as his Today co-presenter Mishal Husain was discussing the implications of the BBC’s decision to axe its Food website (since commuted to transportation to the Good Food platform, run by its commercial arm), sharp-eared listeners heard the Humph claim that fewer recipes on the web could only be a good thing. “It would make it easier!” he bellowed in the background. “We wouldn’t have to choose between so many!”

Husain also seemed puzzled as to why anyone would need more than one recipe for spaghetti bolognese – but, as any keen cook knows, you can never have too many different takes on a dish. Just as you wouldn’t want to get all your news from a single source, it would be a sad thing to eat the same bolognese for the rest of your life. Sometimes only a molto autentico version, as laid down by a fierce Italian donna, rich with tradition and chopped liver, will do – and sometimes, though you would never admit it in a national magazine, you crave the comfort of your mum’s spag bol with grated cheddar.

The world wouldn’t starve without BBC Food’s collection but, given that an online search for “spaghetti bolognese recipe” turns up about a million results, it would have been sad to have lost one of the internet’s more trustworthy sources of information. As someone who spends a large part of each week researching and testing recipes, I can assure you that genuinely reliable ones are rarer than decent chips after closing time. But although it is certainly the only place you’ll find the Most Haunted host Yvette Fielding’s kedgeree alongside Heston Blumenthal’s snail porridge, the BBC website is not the only one that is worth your time.

The good thing about newspaper, magazine and other commercial platforms is that most still have just enough budget to ensure that their recipes will have been made at least twice – once by the writer and once for the accompanying photographs – though sadly the days when everyone employed an independent recipe tester are long gone. Such sites also often have sufficient traffic to generate a useful volume of comments. I never make a recipe without scrolling down to see what other people have said about it. Get past the “Can’t wait to make this!” brigade; ignore the annoying people who swap baked beans for lentils and then complain, “This is nothing like dhal”; and there’s usually some sensible advice in there, too.

But what about when you leave the safety of the big boys and venture into the no man’s land of the personal blog? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff and find a recipe that actually works? You can often tell how much work a writer has put in by the level of detail they go into: if they have indicated how many people it serves, or where to find unusual ingredients, suggested possible tweaks and credited their original sources, they have probably made the dish more than once. The photography is another handy clue. You don’t have to be Annie Leibovitz to provide a good idea of what the finished dish ought to look like.

Do a bit of digging as part of your prep. If you like the look of the rest of the site, the author’s tastes will probably chime with your own. And always, always, wherever the recipe is from, read it all the way through, even before you order the shopping. There is nothing more annoying than getting halfway through and then realising that you need a hand blender to finish the dish, just as the first guest arrives.

Above all, trust your instincts. If the cooking time seems far too short, or the salt content ridiculously high, it probably is, so keep an eye on that oven, check that casserole, keep tasting that sauce. As someone who once published a magic mince pie recipe without any sugar, I’m living proof that, occasionally, even the very best of us make mistakes. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad