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Pakistan: many civilians in North-West Frontier Province conflict areas remain cut off from basic services

20-05-2009 Operational Update

Fighting between Pakistani armed forces and armed opposition groups in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) districts of Dir, Buner and Swat continues to drive civilians from their homes in search of safety. Those left behind lack access to food, water and sanitation and health services.

   

  ©Reuters / M. Faisal    
 
A family fleeing a military offensive in the Swat valley, northwest of Islamabad. 
    " This is the worst humanitarian crisis this country has experienced in recent times, " said Pascal Cuttat, head of the ICRC delegation in Pakistan. " Most humanitarian organizations and journalists focus on the plight of the hundreds of thousands of people who have fled their homes, but we must not forget those who have stayed behind and are bearing the brunt of the hostilities. Everything possible must be done to assist and protect civilia ns, in accordance with international humanitarian law. "

Conditions for those remaining in NWFP conflict areas are a cause for concern since access to water, electricity and health care is extremely limited. Fighting and a general lack of security have disrupted supply chains in Dir, Buner and Swat, making goods – food in particular – scarce and expensive. In addition, frequent curfews make it difficult for people to obtain whatever basic services do happen to be available in their towns and villages. In Mingora, for example, the Swat district's main hospital is now abandoned and water and electricity have been cut off for over a week.

Large camps are being set up to house civilians fleeing conflict-stricken areas. According to official statistics, however, only a fraction of the 1.5 million officially registered internally displaced people (IDPs) have moved into them. Most people prefer to stay with relatives, rent accommodation or live in makeshift shelters wherever they can find them. Temperatures in the camps are rapidly becoming unbearable, especially for the women, who tend to remain inside the tents.

In addition to taking action to help thousands of displaced people, the ICRC is also working in areas directly affected by the fighting. Today, for the first time, it entered Timergara, in Lower Dir, to assess needs. It has already delivered medical supplies to Daggar District Hospital, in Buner, which is still functioning, albeit with a skeleton staff. The ICRC has also distributed food to about 8,500 displaced people and their host families in southern Buner. In addition, in cooperation with the Pakistan Red Crescent Society, it has delivered food and other essential relief items to over 13,000 displaced people in Lower Dir and Malakand. However, the ICRC has not yet been able to bring much-needed medical supplies to Mingora, the capital of Swat and a site of major military operations in the offensive currently under way.

The ICRC and the Pakistan Red Crescent are jointly running a camp for displaced people in Swabi. In addition, the ICRC is providing support for two Pakistan Red Crescent camps in Malakand, which ensures that people who have found refuge there will be able to live in dignified conditions. The camps have been equipped with latrines, showers, water fountains and basic health units. Canopies are being pitched over the tents to reduce temperatures by up to six degrees centigrade – enough to spell the difference between hot and intolerable.

" This camp was practically empty only a week ago. Now we are hosting over 10,000 people, " explained Jean-Yves Penoy, an ICRC delegate working in Swabi as he surveyed some 20 new shower cubicles being erected. " We are trying to keep up with the influx. It's a race against time. "

The ICRC's surgical hospital for the weapon-wounded in Peshawar, inaugurated less than a month ago, on 29 April, has admitted scores of weapon-wounded patients from the Swat district since hostilities erupted and is now operating at full capacity.