1 June 2009
Faisal Mahmood/ReutersThe International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) gained access to parts of Pakistan’s Swat Valley on 30 May, for the first time since the onset of hostilities, evacuating people in urgent need of medical care.
The organisation 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 ICRC delegation in Pakistan. "The ICRC remains extremely concerned about the humanitarian consequences of the fighting in the North-West Frontier Province, where the civilian population is once again bearing the brunt of the violence."
ICRC delegates who entered 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."
Delivering essential supplies
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," Daniel reported. "They simply cannot cope with the influx of patients."
The team evacuated three patients, including one to the ICRC’s hospital for people with weapon wounds in Peshawar. It later facilitated the evacuation of eleven further patients.
The ICRC and Pakistan Red Crescent Society, one of the very few humanitarian organisations working in Swat before the conflict broke out, are increasing their response to help the displaced. This includes deploying additional staff to improve water and sanitation, medical services and restoring contact for families who have been separated.
Numbers are difficult to verify, but there are reported to be at least two million displaced people currently staying in camps and with host families in the region.
"The ICRC will do its utmost to meet those needs without delay. Given what we have already seen on the ground, we are mobilising additional resources, but safe and unimpeded access to the area remains essential for our teams to deliver," said Pascal.
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