Pakistan: ICRC enters Swat, finds civilians’ situation dire
31-05-2009 News Release 09/113
Geneva/Islamabad (ICRC) – The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) yesterday assessed the humanitarian situation in parts of Pakistan’s Swat Valley for the first time since the onset of hostilities there. It also evacuated people in urgent need of medical care.
The organization is gravely concerned about the plight of civilians in Swat and believes their situation demands a prompt and comprehensive humanitarian response.
" The people of Swat need greater humanitarian protection and assistance immediately, " said Pascal Cuttat, head of the organization's delegation in Pakistan. " The ICRC will do its utmost to meet those needs without delay. Given what we have already seen on the ground, we are mobilizing additional resources, but safe and unimpeded access to the area remains essential for our teams to deliver. "
ICRC delegates who were in Swat were alarmed by what they saw. " People have been blocked for weeks, " said Daniel O'Malley, who led the team. " There is no running water, no electricity, and food is scarce. There is no fuel left for generators and most medical facilities in the district are no longer functioning. Phone lines are down, so people have been cut off from the outside world and are anxious for contact with relatives who fled the area. "
The ICRC team visited Khwazakhela hospital, one of the few medical facilities left in Swat, to assess the public health situation and deliver essential supplies. " The handful of hospital staff left are struggling to work without any water, electricity or supplies, " O'Malley reported. " They simply cannot cope with the influx of patients. " The team evacuated three patients, including one to the ICRC’s Weapon Wounded Hospital in Peshawar. It later facilitated the evacuation of eleven further patients.
The ICRC, one of the very few humanitarian organizations working in Swat before the conflict broke out, has been trying to return there since early May. Despite constant negotiations with the parties, access to Swat and other districts affected by the fighting remains too limited to meet the needs of the people affected.
The organization is stepping up its humanitarian aid in Buner and Lower Dir, other conflict-affected areas to which it has gained access in the past two weeks. It also continues to support camps run by the Pakistan Red Crescent Society in Malakand Agency and in Swabi, where over 20,000 people driven from their homes by the fighting are currently living.
Sébastien Brack, ICRC Islamabad, tel +92 300 850 81 38
Sitara Jabeen, ICRC Islamabad, tel +92 300 850 56 93
Simon Schorno, ICRC Geneva, tel +41 79 251 93 02