GENEVA (Reuters) - A humanitarian airlift to northern Iraq began on Wednesday, kicking off a 10-day operation to provide tents and other aid to half a million displaced people who are struggling for survival, the United Nations' refugee agency UNHCR said.

A cargo plane from Jordan touched down in Arbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, carrying 100 tonnes of emergency supplies including plastic sheeting for shelter, kitchen sets and jerry cans, the agency said in a statement.

Three more flights are planned in coming days and aid is also on its way by road and sea, with 175 trucks scheduled to arrive via Turkey, Jordan and Iran, it said. Some 2,410 tonnes of supplies are to be delivered between now and the start of September.

"This is a massive logistics operation ... to help the hundreds of thousands of desperate people who have fled suddenly with nothing but their lives and are now struggling to survive in harsh conditions," said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres. 

Hundreds of thousands have fled their homes since the militant Islamic State group swept through much of the north and west of Iraq in June, threatening to break up the country.

Iraq's escalating crisis means that the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq is now hosting more than 600,000 internally displaced civilians, including more than 200,000 people who fled the Sinjar area since early August, the UNHCR said. Many are living in unfinished buildings, parks or by the roadside.

In all, an estimated 1.2 million people have been uprooted in Iraq so far this year, including half a million in the western Anbar region, it said.






(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, editing by Gareth Jones)