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Pakistan: ICRC activities in the North-West Frontier Province

12-05-2009 Operational Update

Pakistani armed forces launched a major offensive against armed opposition groups on 6 May in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). From the outset, fighting occurred in densely populated areas, including in Mingora, the capital of the Swat district, resulting in civilian casualties and massive displacement.

" A humanitarian crisis is now under way in the NWFP, " said Benno Kocher, who is running the ICRC's operations in the province out of Peshawar. " Heavy fighting is taking place in several districts. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced in less than a week. Civilians who were unable to leave the conflict area have been cut off from basic services, including health care. "

A family flees military operations in Mingora with whatever belongings they can bring along.    

The ICRC is still unable to operate in Swat and Lower Dir owing to intense fighting and poor security. " However, we will continue our efforts to reach those directly affected by violence inside the districts, " said Mr Kocher. " We are also enhancing our support to the Pakistan Red Crescent Society to better respond to the displacement crisis unfolding in several NWFP districts. "

Pakistani authorities report civilian casualties in and around Mingora, a city of 700,000 less than an week ago but now almost empty. Not everyone has been willing or able to leave Swat, however. Many civilians remain in the district in extremely difficult circumstances. " It is essential that the parties to the conflict comply with international humanitarian law – in particular, that they take all feasible precautions to minimize civilian casualties, " said Pascal Cuttat, head of the ICRC in Pakistan. In Mingora, the Swat district's main hospital has been abandoned, and water and electricity have been cut off for days. Many people have reportedly moved into Upper Swat to stay with relatives in rural areas, only to find that heavy fighting is currently taking place there as well.

One of the ICRC's main priorities is to reach the areas directly affected by fighting in the Swat, Lower Dir and Buner districts of the NWFP. The parties to the conflict have agreed in principle to allow the ICRC to operate in those areas, but the intensity of the fighting has until now prevented it from doing so. " Humanitarian organizations like the ICRC must be given safe and unimpeded access to the affected population, " said Mr Cuttat. The ICRC will assess the humanitarian situation and evacuate casualties to its Peshawar hospital for the weapon-wounded as soon as the security situation permits.

At least 360,000 people have fled Swat, Dir and Bune r in recent days. This brings the total number of people displaced (IDPs) by hostilities since August 2008 to over 900,000. The massive and unprecedented displacement means that long-term assistance from humanitarian agencies, including the Pakistan Red Crescent Society and the ICRC, will be required. Many displaced people have chosen to live with host families and are currently dispersed throughout NWFP and other parts of the country. Over the medium and long term, it is expected that the presence of the displaced will impose a significant burden on host families. The ICRC and other humanitarian organizations will need to take this into account in their longer-term response to the current crisis.

The ICRC is currently providing support for Pakistan Red Crescent activities in a camp for the displaced in Swabi district currently run by the National Society. The camp is set up to host 14,000 people, but by the morning of 12 May only a few families had arrived there. More are expected in the coming days. The Pakistan Red Crescent also runs another camp, in Malakand, with ICRC financial and material support. The Malakand camp can host an additional 7,000 people.

The Pakistan Red Crescent is currently stepping up its response to the displacement crisis in NWFP and assessing how best to respond to the unprecedented need for humanitarian aid in the area. In support of these efforts, the ICRC is providing clean water and sanitation and health services in the Swabi district. The ICRC installed the water-supply system and built latrines in the camp run by the Pakistan Red Crescent in the district, and also set up and staffed the camp's health facility. The ICRC currently has two delegates in Swabi.

Making proper medical care available in the conflict areas is a priority for the ICRC, which is currently supplying basic health units in Timargara, in Lower Dir district, with medicines and equipment. The ICRC is in contact with healt h workers still active in Swat to assess health-related needs in the area.

A total of 316 patients received treatment in the ICRC hospital for the weapon-wounded in Peshawar from 18 February to the end of April. The hospital has admitted 20 weapon-wounded patients from the Swat district since hostilities erupted there. It is not the only hospital in Peshawar taking in such patients, however. As other facilities are available, the number of patients treated by the ICRC in recent days is not necessarily a reflection of the overall medical situation in Swat, Lower Dir and Buner.

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