Displaced push Pakistani communities "to the limit" | world | Hindustan Times
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Displaced push Pakistani communities "to the limit"

People fleeing fighting in Pakistan are putting a huge burden on communities where they are sheltering but the United Nations can only help a fraction of them because it doesn't have enough funds, a UN official said.

world Updated: Jun 18, 2009 17:17 IST

People fleeing fighting in Pakistan are putting a huge burden on communities where they are sheltering but the United Nations can only help a fraction of them because it doesn't have enough funds, a UN official said.

Fighting flared in northwest Pakistan in late April when the army began an offensive against Taliban militants in their Swat valley bastion. Aid agencies have issued urgent, multi-million dollar calls for aid for people displaced by the fighting.

Nearly 2 million people have fled the conflict, the top UN humanitarian coordinator in Pakistan, Martin Mogwanja, told a news conference on Thursday.

While some of the internally displaced people (IDPs) have moved into tented camps set up by aid agencies and the government, most are staying with friends or relatives in so-called host communities.

"This is a massive, massive influx of people to be suddenly hosted within a space of three to four weeks," Mogwanja said.

Most of Pakistan's political parties and members of the public support the offensive but the government risks seeing that backing evaporate if the displaced are seen to be suffering unduly.

Mogwanja said in some places scores of people were crammed into a couple of rooms. Thousands of tonnes of food and other supplies have been distributed but the strain on communities was still immense, he said.

"The health care services, the public water services, the sanitation services, the schools services, have all been pushed to their absolute limit and some have surpassed their limits," Mogwanja said.

The United Nations appealed last month for $543 million to help the displaced but only $166 million, or 31 per cent of that, has materialised, he said.

"Our resources are limited and we are reaching only a fraction of those whom we would like to reach among the host communities and this is a great concern," he said.

ANOTHER EXODUS LIKELY

The army has made progress in Swat, pushing the militants out of the main towns, but soldiers are still encountering pockets of resistance.

Mogwanja declined to say when he thought the displaced might be able to go home, saying the government and the United Nations had drawn up a set of conditions which needed to be met, including security and the restoration of utilities and services.

"The government is very clear that it wants to achieve these conditions as soon as possible and they are working very hard to do so," he said.

"But as of now, we have not come across a situation where all conditions are complete but we're hopeful that these conditions can be met in the near future," he said.

The military is also planning an offensive against Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in his stronghold in South Waziristan on the Afghan border.

Already, thousands of people have left the region, residents say, and a full offensive is likely to spark another exodus into a region where U.N. staff cannot go because of security worries.

Two foreign UN workers were killed in a suicide bomb attack on a hotel in the main northwestern city of Peshawar on June 9 but Mogwanja said that would not stop the aid effort.

(Editing by Paul Tait)