Numbers of displaced Pakistanis grow as does need for water, food and services
As the number of people displaced by fighting in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province continues to grow, the IRC reports that hundreds of thousands of people are in desperate need of drinking water and other services.
The Pakistani military offensive against Taliban militants in the Swat Valley has forced over a million people from their homes and sparked a major humanitarian crisis, adding to over half a million people already displaced by violence over the past six months.
"Over the next month as many as two million people may be displaced from Swat and from Buner, Dir, Bajaur and Mohmand districts alone," said Mike Young, the IRC's Pakistan country representative.
As the fighting intensifies, the IRC and other aid groups are scrambling to meet the needs of the displaced.
"This emergency is on the scale of what we saw during the wars in Rwanda and Bosnia," Young said. "We call on the international community, individuals and institutions to help meet the urgent need for food, health care, education, and water and sanitation."
Abdul Haseeb, the IRC's senior coordinator for humanitarian response in Pakistan, said fresh drinking water is one of the most pressing needs.
"Temperatures are as high as 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and with so many new people arriving and so few water sources, it is hard to keep up with the demand."
Haseeb added that, although not enough, the IRC is trucking in 252,000 liters of water per day to Nowshera district's Jalozai camp alone. IRC engineers have also helped the local government to repair two wells that provide some 70,000 people in the Jalozai and Peshawar's Katcha Gari camps with drinking water. To prevent the spread of disease, IRC teams have constructed over 400 latrines, 200 washing places and 100 garbage disposal points in the Jalozai and Katcha Gari camps.
Taj Sultana, the IRC's protection coordinator in Pakistan, said that in addition to a lack of sanitation facilities, the absence of separate latrines and washing areas for men and women is putting additional stress onto an already traumatized population.
"As a result, women and girls feel forced to bathe and attend to personal hygiene inside their tents, adding to already poor hygiene conditions," Sultana says.
Currently, 75 IRC staff members are registering displaced people as they arrive in six of the largest camps in Peshawar, Nowshera, Mardan, Swabi and Charsadda districts. Registering safeguards the rights of displaced people and helps gain access to services.
The vast majority of the displaced, however, do not reach the government-run camps. Almost 90 percent are living with family or friends or squatting in schools, abandoned buildings and other makeshift shelters. IRC staff is preparing to assist tens of thousands of these especially vulnerable people with basic household items, clean water and other essential services.
The IRC has also established drop-in centers which provide legal information to displaced newcomers. People are briefed on their legal rights, the process of returning home, and how to obtain national identify cards and education certificates.
The latest fighting erupted three weeks ago after the collapse of a February 2009 peace pact aimed at ending militant violence in the Swat valley. Earlier this week, the Pakistani army announced that it is extending its war on the Taliban to the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.