21 May 2009
Faisal Mahmood/ReutersHundreds of thousands of civilians in Pakistan are enduring extreme suffering and hardship due to ongoing hostilities. Fighting between Pakistan’s armed forces and armed opposition groups has driven around 1.5 million people from North West Frontier Province (NWFP) from their homes in search of safety.
Those left behind lack access to food, water and sanitation, and health services. The Pakistan Red Crescent and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are continuing to bring aid, including food and medical supplies, to people who are affected and in desperate need.
"This is the worst humanitarian crisis this country has experienced in recent times," said Pascal Cuttat, head of the ICRC delegation in Pakistan. "Most humanitarian organisations and journalists focus on the plight of the hundreds of thousands of people who have fled their homes, but we must not forget those who have stayed behind and are bearing the brunt of the hostilities. Everything possible must be done to assist and protect civilians, in accordance with international humanitarian law."
Concern is mounting for those remaining in the conflict area since access to water, electricity and healthcare is extremely limited. Fighting and a general lack of security have disrupted supply chains, making goods – food in particular – scarce and expensive. The main hospital in the NWFP’s Swat district is now abandoned and water and electricity have been cut off for over a week. In addition, frequent curfews make it difficult for people to access whatever basic services are available.
Large camps are being set up to house civilians fleeing the conflict-stricken area. According to official statistics, however, only a fraction of the 1.5 million officially registered displaced people have moved into them. Most people prefer to stay with relatives, rent accommodation or live in makeshift shelters wherever they can find them. Temperatures in the camps are rapidly becoming unbearable, especially for the women, who tend to remain inside the tents.
Ros Armitage, British Red Cross conflict operations manager, said: “The hostilities have been going on since August 2008 and over 500,000 people have fled their homes in recent days. Many people are in a desperate situation and the ICRC is working closely with the Pakistan Red Crescent Society to provide shelter, food, water, sanitation and healthcare for those who are displaced. Where access allows, they are also meeting the humanitarian needs of those who remain in the conflict zone.”
Camp for displaced people
The Pakistan Red Crescent is running camps for displaced people, ensuring those who have found refuge there will be able to live in dignified conditions. The camps are equipped with latrines, showers, water fountains and basic health units. Canopies are being pitched over the tents to reduce temperatures by up to six degrees centigrade – enough to make the difference between hot and intolerable.
"This camp was practically empty only a week ago. Now we are hosting over 10,000 people," explained Jean-Yves Penoy, ICRC delegate. "We are trying to keep up with the influx. It's a race against time."
The ICRC's surgical hospital for people with weapon wounds in Peshawar, established less than a month ago, has admitted scores of patients from the Swat district since recent hostilities escalated and is now operating at full capacity.
British Red Cross support
“The ICRC and Pakistan Red Crescent are on the ground constantly monitoring and assessing the situation, and if a need for extra support is highlighted, the British Red Cross is ready to respond,” said Ros. “The massive and unprecedented displacement means that long-term assistance from humanitarian agencies, including the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, will be required.”
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