Humanitarian access key challenge for UN agencies assisting Pakistanis

20 October 2009As civilians continue to flee South Waziristan amid Pakistani military operations against insurgents, the United Nations refugee agency is stressing the need to ensure that assistance can reach the displaced. “Humanitarian access to people in need remains the key challenge for humanitarian agencies in this operation given the volatile security environment in the displacement areas,” Andrej Mahecic, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva.UNHCR is supporting the registration of new arrivals in the districts of Dera Ismail Khan and Tank in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), where some 32,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been registered by local authorities since 13 October. They join more than 80,000 people who had fled South Waziristan since May this year, bringing the total number of registered displaced to more than 112,000 people.UNHCR, working through local partners, has been distributing relief items such as kitchen sets, blankets, sleeping mats and jerry cans to registered IDPs. Mr. Mahecic said that so far, the IDPs have been accommodated by the host families. “Generally, this has been the trend in the north-west part of Pakistan,” he noted. When more than 2 million Pakistanis were displaced by the conflict between Government forces and militants in NWFP earlier this year, the majority of them were accommodated by host families. About half of those IDPs have since returned to their homes.The Government has informed UNHCR that it is considering the establishment of camps and the agency stands ready to assist in providing all-weather tents and site preparation if required. Mr. Mahecic said that in addition to the aid given to individual families, assistance will need to be extended to hospitals, schools and other public facilities that may come under strain with large influxes of people.Meanwhile, some 3,600 people recently displaced by the conflict in Bajaur agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) continue to seek shelter in Lower Dir. Efforts are underway to pitch tents in the Wali Kandow camp in the same district, while the rest of the people are to be sheltered at the Khungi Shah camp, recently vacated by displaced people who have returned to their homes. The newly displaced join more than 58,000 Bajauris residing in various camps in NWFP after fleeing several waves of conflict since August 2008. read more

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