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UNICEF: Children and women displaced by conflict in Pakistan need urgent and ongoing support

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Source: United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)

Date: 03 Jul 2009 GENEVA, 3 July 2009

UNICEF is deeply concerned about the condition of thousands of children who have been displaced by conflict, or who remain in affected areas, in north-western Pakistan.

Nearly 50 per cent of the estimated 2 million displaced are children, many of whom are in urgent need of health and educational services, nutritional support, access to clean water and sanitation as well as protection. Their situation has been compounded by the harsh summer temperatures.

UNICEF is especially concerned that some 700,000 children are due to start the new school year in September in 3,700 schools that are currently occupied by 150,000 IDPs. If these schools are not vacated and rehabilitated soon, the education of all these children will be interrupted. Some of these children could even drop out of the education system permanently.

The speed and magnitude of the crisis has stretched the capacity of the government, host communities and humanitarian actors to the limit. Though fighting is reported to have subsided in Swat and Buner, IDPs continue to seek refuge in camps and communities in northern parts of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and new displacements are being recorded into southern parts of the province due to military operations in South Waziristan.

“In Pakistan we face a unique humanitarian challenge, since the vast majority of the displaced are seeking shelter in host communities which are far more difficult to reach with basic services than in the camps,” said UNICEF’s Director of Emergency Programmes, Louis-Georges Arsenault.

While basic needs are being met in camps, the situation is critical for the vast majority of IDPs living in host communities. In the thousands of school buildings that have been converted into IDP shelters and other spontaneous camps that have sprung up throughout parts of NWFP to cope with the influx of people from conflict-affected areas, children and families are living in cramped conditions with limited to negligible access to safe drinking water and sanitation – and are difficult to reach with basic hygiene materials and education to decrease the likelihood of water borne diseases.

At equal risk are host communities who are shouldering the burden with limited resources and fragile infrastructure in the aftermath of food prices spikes that took root in 2007. UNICEF is working closely with the government of Pakistan and other partners to provide services and information to displaced children and women.

To prevent the outbreak of diseases, over 200,000 children have been vaccinated against measles and 230,000 people receive safe drinking water and hygiene education in IDP camps and communities. To date, 47,400 children and 20,400 mothers have been screened for malnutrition, and the 11,000 moderately malnourished have received care within their own communities. While malnutrition rates are presently low, the vulnerability of the population requires sustained support to prevent the situation from deteriorating rapidly.

The Pakistan Humanitarian Response Plan, revised in May to cope with new displacements caused by the military operations in Swat and Buner, has so far raised less than a third of the $543 million required to support 1.7 million IDPs for six months. As part of the Appeal, UNICEF requested $52 million. To date $22.5 million has been received from donors and is in hand –and another $9.3 million has been pledged. “Without sufficient funding, it will be impossible to ensure that thousands of children and families affected by the conflict have the services and support they require in the time of their greatest need. Equally important is support to the host communities who are struggling to cope with their new found burden,” said Arsenault.

About UNICEF

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.

In Pakistan and elsewhere, it has provided vital relief and reconstruction support to help individuals rebuild their lives after emergencies. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For further information, please contact:

Kathryn Grusovin, UNICEF Islamabad, Tel +92-300-5018542, E-mail: kgrusovin@unicef.org.

A Sami Malik, UNICEF Islamabad, Tel +92-300-8556654, E-mail: asmalik@unicef.org.

http://www.unicef.org/Pakistan

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Hospitality’s ultimate test: In Pakistan, displaced seek shelter house by house

By: Matt Hackworth/CWS

MARDAN, Northwest Frontier Province, Pakistan — Awalkhan has four spare rooms in his modest house, now a temporary hostel to 30 people.

“Because I had spare rooms, I host them,” Awalkhan said, sitting on the edge of a traditional rattan charpoy bed. “They have no other way.”

The people in Awalkhan’s home are like most in Pakistan who are displaced by the fighting between national army and Taliban forces. They left in a hurry, with little more than the clothes on their backs, and fled to the home of a relative or close friend.

United Nations figures document 1.7 million have fled escalating violence in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province. That number is likely far below the total number of people affected because so many have found refuge in the homes of others.

“It could be as high as 90 percent of people who fled are unaccounted for, simply because they’re staying with a host family,” CWS Pakistan/Afghanistan Director Marvin Parvez. (Parvez is also the Asia/Pacific Regional Director for Church World Service.) “These are families who didn’t have much to begin with, and now they have the added strain of caring for others. They need our help.”

Just as CWS has provided food packages and blankets in the nearby Sheik Yasin Camp, where 9,000 displaced persons live in tents, the agency has also provided food and supplies to families who have opened their homes to people in need.

A local partner in Mardan, Movement for Rural Development Organization, helped CWS identify homes where needs are particularly strong.

“The people of this community are very poor,” MRDO Chairman Sawar Khan said. “They are completely dependent upon NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and the public.”

Smaller villages ring the outskirts of Mardan, where locals in native colorful dress, called shalwar khamiz, seek shelter from the blistering heat inside homes made of thick mud plaster. Over a thick cup of local chai tea and pastries, village elder Mohammed Younas Khan describes how his community is handling such an influx of people.

“If someone has four rooms, they give two rooms to the people,” Khan said, stroking his white beard. “If they have one room, they share it. That’s how we’re handling it.

“But it’s our prayer to Allah that the people should be able to go home,” Khan said.

Pakistan’s army set a deadline of June 25 for its operations against the Taliban to conclude. The deadline passed and troops continue to fight.

One thing is clear in Mardan: Families remain just as scared of life under Taliban rule as they are of being caught in a military firefight. Women duck under headscarves at the sight of a still camera, for fear the Taliban might see their photo, in violation of the Islamic laws of Sharia.

So, families remain in Mardan, caught between harsh justice and military might, far from home. For Awalkhan, the uncertainty facing the 30 people in his home produces at least one bit of clarity.

“I will continue to host them because this is my duty,” he said.

How to help

Church World Service is helping to provide food, shelter and medical care for displaced children and families in Pakistan. Contributions to support Church World Service emergency response and recovery efforts may be made online, by phone (800.297.1516), or sent to Church World Service, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515.

Media Contact:

Lesley Crosson, 212-870-2676 lcrosson@churchworldservice.org

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Pakistan: Trucks torched along US supply line

By RIAZ KHAN, Associated Press Writer

PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Assailants torched 10 trucks stranded in Pakistan by the bombing of a key bridge on the main supply route for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, an official said Wednesday.

Increasing attacks on transport depots and truck convoys heading to bases across the border have raised doubts about Pakistan’s ability to protect the vital road as the U.S. prepares to send as many as 30,000 more American forces into Afghanistan this year.

Attackers set fire to at least 10 trucks parked overnight near Landi Kotal, a town close to the famed Khyber Pass that connects Pakistan with Afghanistan, local government official Fazl Rabi said.

The trucks were returning from Afghanistan and it was unclear if they had carried goods for foreign troops, Rabi said.

U.S. officials have played down any concern about running out of food or fuel, despite pressure on their supply lines. American forces stockpile enough supplies to last 60-90 days in the event that their supply chain is severed, U.S. officials say.

The Khyber route was cut Tuesday when suspected militants set off a bomb that wrecked a bridge across a rocky gorge near the pass. The red metal bridge was twisted and partially collapsed at one end.

Bakhtiar Khan, another local government official, said Pakistan army engineers were working on the bridge with the aim of reopening it by Thursday.

Khan said cars and other small vehicles were able to cross the gorge by picking their way along a rough track that crossed the dry river bed near the bridge but that no trucks were moving.

Some 75 percent of U.S. supplies to Afghanistan currently travel through Pakistan, and securing efficient and safe supply routes into Afghanistan has become a top priority for U.S. officials.

With Taliban militants gaining strength on both sides of the border, American and NATO officials have been seeking alternative routes through Central Asia.

But Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday raised a new obstacle for the U.S. by threatening to close American access to a Kyrgyz air base. The U.S. Embassy in the Central Asian country said Wednesday that both sides were still in talks on maintaining a base there.

Meanwhile, militants released 30 police and paramilitary officers they kidnapped late Tuesday after surrounding a police station in the Swat Valley, a police officer said. The valley, in Pakistan’s northwest, was once a popular tourist destination but the growing influence of insurgents and a related surge in violence have made it too dangerous for travelers.

Swat police cheif Dilawar Khan Bangash said the men were released after pressure from tribal elders.

On Monday, John Solecki, an American U.N. worker was kidnapped as he traveled to work in Quetta city in Baluchistan. Police said it was not clear whether Islamist militants, criminals seeking a ransom payment or members of a regional separatist group were responsible. Authorities are questioning more than a dozen people in connection with the abduction.

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Afghanistan: Food insecurity may cause deaths this winter – government

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KABUL, 27 November 2008 (IRIN) – More than 1.6 million under-five children and hundreds of thousands of vulnerable women are exposed to acute malnutrition and some could die this winter due to food insecurity and lack of medical care, the government has warned.

“Around 1.6 million children under five and 625,000 child-bearing-age women are at risk of dying this winter due to malnutrition,” the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) said in a statement (in English) on 25 November.

These figures are significantly higher than the 550,000 under-five children and pregnant and lactating women considered “most vulnerable” in a joint emergency appeal by the government and aid agencies in July.

The government said the food crisis had been exacerbated by drought, high food prices and loss of livestock across the country.

“We fear that a humanitarian crisis will be imminent and villagers in those districts might lose a big number of their livestock in the coming winter,” the statement said.

Food insecurity is also making vulnerable people – mostly children and pregnant women – more prone to diseases, the MoPH said.

Unprecedented food aid

Various aid agencies and government bodies reckon 5-10 million of the estimated 26.6 million population do not have access to adequate food and nutrition.

In response, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has increased food distributions to unprecedented levels, and currently feeds over eight million people in the country.

WFP said it had allocated an extra 36,000 tonnes of food aid for the winter period. The aid supplements WFP’s routine food programme and is in addition to food included under the emergency appeal. Some 95,000 people in 22 provinces will benefit from it this winter.

“So far we have delivered 78 percent [of the 36,000 tonnes] in all 22 provinces [out of 34 country-wide] and within the next two weeks or so we expect to be [at] over 90 percent, and will be very close to having completed our target,” said Anthony Banbury, WFP’s regional director for Asia.

Several other aid organisations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, have also delivered food aid to needy people.

Attacks on aid convoys

The expansion of food distribution activities has been accompanied by an unprecedented increase in armed attacks on humanitarian aid convoys.

“The security challenges we face are in three areas: food coming into the country, particularly through the Peshawar route [Pakistan]; food on major routes in Afghanistan; and then distribution to districts. In all three it [security] is worse than in the past,” said Banbury.

At least 26 attacks on WFP food aid trucks have been recorded so far this year, mainly in the insecure south and southwest. Food to feed tens of thousands of hungry people had been looted and/or wasted in the attacks, WFP said.

Dozens of local and foreign aid workers have also been killed and abducted in various security incidents over the past 11 months.

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