Pakistan Crisis Deepens; IRC Calls for Increased Funding
Hundreds of thousands of desperate people are still fleeing violence every day, as fighting continues in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province. Meanwhile, the Pakistani army has expanded its offensive to the southern tribal areas, a move expected to compound the humanitarian emergency.
As the crisis deepens, the International Rescue Committee is racing to meet the basic lifesaving needs of thousands of families. But Mike Young, the IRC’s Pakistan country representative, said that humanitarian needs remain drastically under-funded and that time is running short.
“Any support given to the IRC reaches the displaced quickly and directly,” Young said. “We’re already providing assistance to the displaced in all major areas, but we fear that unless the humanitarian appeal is answered very soon, the conditions for the displaced will gravely deteriorate and their frustrations will start to spill over into more violence.”
Like Bosnia and Rwanda
Comparing the current scale of displacement in Pakistan to the wars in Rwanda and Bosnia, Young said that the number of people displaced by Pakistan’s military offensive against Taliban militants in North-West Frontier Province has now surged to over two million.
“This is not a new crisis,” Young noted. “Half a million people have been living in exile from their homes for nearly eight months now.”
The vast majority of the displaced do not reach the camps but live with family or friends or are squatting in schools, abandoned buildings and other makeshift shelters. Their most urgent needs are for the basics – food, shelter, health care, and water and sanitation.
Yet more displacement
As people continue to flee fighting in Swat, another wave of displaced people is expected to result from fresh fighting in the tribal areas located west and south of the North-West Frontier Province.
“We have reports of a growing number of displaced people escaping North and South Waziristan,” said Abdul Haseeb, the IRC’s senior coordinator for humanitarian response. “The majority are taking refuge with host communities in the Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan districts, posing yet another huge challenge for aid groups and the government. The IRC is ready to respond with water and sanitation, education, protection services and health care. If we are able to mobilize assistance in time for this mass displacement, we will be able to save many lives.”
Mike Young added that, as the fighting intensifies and widens, so does the risk to civilians and displaced people outside the conflict zone.
“The Pakistan army is increasingly involved in the relief effort, and, as a party to the conflict, its presence could bring militant violence into the heart of the camps housing the displaced. In addition, aid workers have no access to the conflict zone itself. Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people are caught in the crossfire. There must be humanitarian access, so assistance can be delivered or more people evacuated away from the fighting.”