UN Issues Urgent Appeal for Pakistan Refugee Aid

22 May 2009

Newly arrived people displaced from fighting in Swat Valley queue for registration in Jalozai camp on outskirts of Peshawar, 15 May 2009
Newly arrived people displaced from fighting in Swat Valley queue for registration in Jalozai camp on outskirts of Peshawar, 15 May 2009

The United Nations is appealing for an additional $454 million to assist nearly two million Pakistanis displaced by fighting between army troops and Taliban militants in Swat Valley.  The U.N. has already committed $88 million, bringing the total coast of humanitarian relief to $453 million.

The United Nations says the scale and speed of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Pakistan is extraordinary.  

"The numbers of people who have moved in that last three and half weeks is the highest rate of movement we have seen for more than 20 years anywhere in the world," said Martin Mogwanja, the acting UN coordinator in Pakistan. "And it is the biggest displacement that has ever occurred in Pakistan. Given the other social, economic and security factors in Pakistan, we believe that responding to this appeal quickly and responding now is in the interest - not only of the humanitarian community - it is in the interest of the world as a whole."

This week, the Pakistani government unveiled a high-profile strategy to deal with the exploding numbers of people displaced by the war against Taliban militants in Swat Valley. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani hosted a donor's conference in the capital, Islamabad, where several nations, including the United States, pledged $224 million in humanitarian aid.

Gilani told donors that addressing the current humanitarian crisis in the northwest is inextricably linked to combating extremism.

"Taking care of Pakistan's IDP's [internally displaced people] is among the responsibilities that come in the wake of efforts to combat terrorism," said Mr. Gilani. "There is an urgent need for joint and comprehensive response to this issue by all those who are committed to fighting terrorism."

In addition to seeking outside financial help, the Pakistani government has budgeted $100 million for relief efforts that include one-time grants of $300 to each displaced family.

Part of the problem facing the Pakistani government and aid agencies is that only 20 percent of people who fled the violence are actually in the camps. The rest are staying with family or friends and that population is harder to reach and help.

Helene Caux is a spokesperson with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She visited Jalala camp in Mardan district not far from the military offensive this week. She says the biggest problem for camp residents is the heat, which has been steadily hovering just below 40 degrees Celsius. Caux also says camp residents are clearly traumatized and want to go home.

"They say everything is being provided to them in the camps, what they need is to go back," said Caux. "This is harvesting time right now and they absolutely need to go back [home] to do that."

On the battlefront, the military says they are on the verge on entering and taking control of Mingora, the main town in Swat Valley. Earlier this week, the military said it had recaptured the town of Sultanwas, a major Taliban stronghold, in neighboring Buner district.