Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Pakistan Conflict - 1.5. Million Internally Displaced

FACTBOX: More than one million displaced in Pakistan
By Robert Birsel, Reuters, May 19, 2009

A Pakistani military offensive against Taliban militants in their Swat valley bastion has forced more than a million people from their homes, the government and the United Nations say.

A failure to respond to one of the most dramatic displacement crises in recent times could generate instability, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said at the weekend as he called for "massive support" from the international community.

Following are some facts about the displaced.

- The number of people displaced by the fighting has risen to more than 1.4 million, U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes said on Monday.

- They are joining about 555,000 displaced by earlier fighting in the northwest.

- Thousands of people remain in the valley and the head of the government's relief effort said authorities were trying to ensure regular food supplies for them.

- The United Nations says about 48 percent of the displaced are children and the country faces a long-term humanitarian crisis.

- The United Nations said 15 to 20 percent of the displaced who have registered with authorities, or about 250,000 people, are in some 24 camps. The rest are staying with friends, relatives, in rented accommodation or in "spontaneous settlements" that have sprung up.

- The U.N. refugee agency has opened stockpiles of supplies to help the displaced and has also airlifted in 120 tons of supplies including plastic sheets for shelters and mosquito nets.

- The U.N. World Food Program has mobilized its in-country stocks and is feeding 780,000 people.

- The World Health Organization (WHO) has delivered 20 mini-emergency health kits, enough for 120,000 people for one month.

- A WHO spokesman in Geneva said late last week the health situation was not extremely serious but diseases were starting to take hold.

- The army, which played a major role in helping survivors of a big earthquake in 2005, is donating part of its rations to the relief effort, enough to feed about 80,000 adults a day.

- The United States has donated $4.9 million for basic supplies such as tents, blankets and cooking kits, while Britain had donated 10 million pounds ($15.19 million). France has promised 12 million euro ($8.8 million).

- Both the United Nations and the government are due to outline the needs and issue appeals for help this week.


Contending with displacements
By Syed Mohammad Ali, Daily Times, May 19, 2009

Those working with the IDPs must realise that displaced people in general need not be treated as hapless victims as such treatment can further compound their sense of dislocation and undermine in-built resilience`

A steady stream of displacement has been unleashed by the military offensive against militants challenging the writ of the state in the Swat valley. This has occurred at a time when the NWFP government was already struggling to manage the displacements from the ongoing FATA conflict.

In fact, this latest wave of displacements is not confined to the Swat valley alone. People have been fleeing from the adjoining districts of Dir and Buner as well in order to escape the escalating violence. As a result, camps that had housed Afghan refugees for three decades have now become home to the multitudes displaced by the fighting in the NWFP itself.

It is important to realise though that the current displacements have not occurred due to an unforeseen natural disaster but instead are the obvious consequence of a premeditated military offensive. Many are thus criticising the relevant authorities for not being responsive enough to have prepared pre-emptive evacuation plans for the areas where military action was impending.

As a result of this lack of planning, civilians caught in the crossfire could not be provided adequate transport facilities to expediently transfer them to the safety of well-organised camps. Already distraught people have had to suffer unnecessary hardships due to haphazard displacement management.

Even the initial estimates of displacements to be caused by the ongoing conflict were grossly inaccurate. It was thought that no more than 100,000 to 200,000 people would leave their homes, but already over a million people have been dislodged, and every day, more people are leaving their homes and fleeing to safer locations.

Many displaced people are not heading to the camps. They are instead opting to be hosted by relatives in local communities spread across various districts. Had this not been the case, the already overstretched camp facilities for the internally displaced persons (IDPs) would have been stretched well beyond capacity. Instead of ignoring displaced people who are not residing in camps however, it is vital that they also be provided support, in the form of food vouchers for instance, to help lessen the burden on their hosts, many of whom are also not affluent people.

The formation of a new Support Group has been announced by the prime minister to contend with the IDP crisis, even though a National Disaster Management Authority had already been established, with UNDP support, after the 2005 earthquake. Despite the money spent on the NDMA, its ability to contend with conflict-evoked displacements was not considered adequate. Instead the Support Group was thus formed, which is to be headed by the former Deputy Chairman of the Emergency Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Authority.

The Support Group is tasked to work with the NWFP government, along with other senior representatives each from the interior, health, information, foreign affairs, cabinet and finance ministries. How this new entity will coordinate with the varied stakeholders to coordinate their efforts on-ground remains to be seen. What remains evident is the glaring need to better manage the present IDP crisis.

Besides the reported lack of electricity, food and medicines in different camps, stories about the delivery of unnecessary items like blankets amidst the rising temperatures have illustrated this need for more effective management. Numerous NGOs, donors and line departments are working on the ground, and the ability of the Support Group to quickly step in and manage all these different organisations for not only providing initial relief but also addressing the eventual rehabilitation needs of the IDPs will be the main challenge.

Clearly, the provincial government lacks sufficient resources and the initial allocation made by the federal government will also not be enough to provide the IDPs who have managed to flee to safety with a reasonable level of comfort. An international donor conference is planned to secure funds to support the IDPs, right after Pakistan has got done with trying to cajole its ‘friends’ to help overcome the lingering economic woes.

Organisations like the Red Cross and Red Crescent are trying to access people who were unable to flee the conflict, but the threat of attacks by militants on humanitarian workers makes this task quite a challenge.

It is also vital to realise here that women and children face unique pressures due to the displacement, which merit special attention. The lack of female medical attendants within the camps can unfortunately prevent women from conservative households from accessing available medical services. Camp life can be very difficult for women accustomed to strict segregation from men who are not family members. United Nations agencies have set up canvas walls around clusters of tents to give women more privacy.

Displaced women and children further face increased threats of sexual abuse and other forms of violence. Incidents of already victimised children, especially girls, being sold away after the October 2005 earthquake proved the actual danger of such instances, which provide human smugglers an opportunity to identify more victims. After the Balochistan earthquake however, a lesson had been learnt to lessen this hazard, which led to placing check-posts on major routes leading from the distraught areas to curb human smuggling.

A national conference was organised last year in Islamabad particularly to highlight the impact of displacements on children in view of the NWFP and Balochistan earthquakes, and the flood in Sindh. It would be useful for practitioners and line departments working with the IDPs to take a closer look at these findings and try to create not only makeshift schools, but also safe play areas, and put in place community-led child protection mechanisms within IDP camps themselves to prevent abuse or abduction of children.

Moreover, given the rush and chaos in which displacements initially occurred, a large number of children are also feared to have been lost. While a help line has been put in place in Mardan, and some NGOs have identified separated children and are trying to trace their parents, there is an evident need for a wider inter-camp coordination mechanism to reunite lost children with family members who have landed in other camps.

Furthermore, those working with the IDPs must realise that displaced people in general need not be treated as hapless victims as such treatment can further compound their sense of dislocation and undermine in-built resilience. It is quite possible to involve these people in taking varied responsibilities within the camps, which can in turn lessen the human resource burden of camp management, and facilitate the ultimate objective of rehabilitation.

Once some sort of a grip is taken over the current challenge, and hopefully as more areas are declared safe enough for the displaced to begin returning home, the existing disaster management policies and systems must be carefully revised to better deal with sudden displacements in the future.

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