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Pakistan: A Humanitarian Crisis

River Swat, Kalam, Photo from Flickr by Farooq Nasir, used under a Creative Commons license

River Swat, Kalam, Photo from Flickr by Farooq Nasir, used under a creative commons license

Pakistan has been hit by a severe humanitarian crisis as a result of the military onslaught against the Taliban insurgency. The valley of Swat is in Pakistan’s Malakand division, a beautiful valley often dubbed as another heaven on planet earth. It used to be a prominent tourist resort before it was struck by militancy and extremism of the local Taliban.

It is being reported that over one million (some reports even suggest that figure stands at near 2 million) people have fled their homes from various areas in the Malakand division and FATA including Buner, Dir and Swat. These “Internally Displaced People” (IDPs) are seeking refuge in other areas of Pakistan. Temporary camps have been established in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) where registered IDPs are provided food and shelter.

The crisis is huge. The problems seem impossible to overcome. But Pakistan as a nation has always proved its resilience and unity in testing times. In this regard, a massive relief effort has been launched by many organizations and individuals. The Pakistani Blogosphere is also taking a leading role to provide relief to our Pakistani brothers and sisters in distress.

In this regard, a weblog has been setup titled “Internally Displaced People in Pakistan” which mentions:

“The primary purpose is to track the estimates and the real-time data that is cited by international organizations, such as the UN, as well as the government agencies (NDMA and others) to determine and communicate the scale of the problem.”

The crisis is being labeled as the worst-ever in Pakistan’s history and I believe it is one of the biggest challenges faced by the PPP (Pakistan People’s Party) led government in Pakistan. It is also a challenge for the ANP that leads the provincial government in the NWFP.

The Pakistani Spectator has posted a list of organizations and bank accounts to which donations may be sent, including the Edhi trust, Al-Khidmat, PTI and others.

A detailed list of organizations and individuals who are working on the cause has been at Chowrangi.com and they sent out an appeal to everyone, saying:

“This is an appeal to all individuals, organizations, charities and NGOs in general and nationals of Pakistan in particular, whether resident or expat, to come forward and help by extending financial, technical and moral support to hundreds of thousands, feared to be displaced in Swat Crisis. If nothing else, please spread the word.”

Fauzia Minallah, an active civil worker from Islamabad has sent an email to “Rise of Pakistan”, saying:

“According to some news reports there are nearly 50,000 IDPs in Islamabad. Civil Society Islamabad, visited 4 locations identified by out of these only one was an informal camp with approximately 40 tents near the Katchi Abadi in G 7/1. The IDPs are not registered in Islamabad and unless they are registered it is difficult to identitify deserving and genuine IDPs.

Their problem is the sudden increase in rents by the locals. They are vulnerable to exploitation by individuals and dodgy NGOs. Despite all these problems atleast there is a roof over their heads. They need to be registered during summer break these families can spend the hot summer months in schools…”

The above blog post also features several photographs of the IDP’s.

Dr. Awab Alvi, popularly known as the Teeth Maestro on the blogosphere is leading a collection drive and plans to head for the relief camps soon. He informs:

“I plan to lead a team to the affected areas hopefully to depart from Karachi on the 18th of May 2009 to take the collected donation items personally into the region of Mardan and physically distribute the items only to the needy and suffering.

We are interested in anything that you can contribute. We are hoping to pre-pack the collected items into small handy packages so as to distribute items to each individual person. The small packages will help us avoid hoarders who made even the 2005 Earthquake a business.”

On the other hand, some problems, irresponsible behavior and hindrances in relief efforts have been reported as well.

Kashif Aziz at Chowrangi.com reports that a refugee camp was being uprooted in Islamabad:

“Amongst huge governmental claims of relief and support activities for the IDPs of Swat, reality on the ground is quite different. However, the advancements in media and citizen journalism has made it difficult for the Ministers and their gangs to cover up their blunders and drawing-room statements.

On one hand the displaced people of Swat, Buner, Dir and adjacent areas are trying to cope up with harsh living conditions out of their comfort zones, on the other they are being exploited and manipulated by opportunists. One such incident occurred right in the capital, Islamabad.”

At the PakistanIDP, it has been reported that National Database and Registration Authority, NADRA, is charging people for registration and for the issuance of new ID cards to those who have lost or misplaced them while fleeing their areas:

“NADRA is charging Rs.50 for folks who lost/misplaced or had their cards destroyed in the process of fleeing their homes. The provincial government, district government, civil society and individual citizens are doing all they can to feed, house and clothe these IDPs.

The federal government charges them Rs.50 for their Identification Cards. Call your MNA, Senator, Uncle, or Auntie, call anybody and everybody you can, and tell them how outrageous this is. NADRA should stick to making money on contracts from foreign governments (as it does when it mass produces machine readable passports for other countries). This software house financed by the taxpayer should not be charging IDPs for a document that is a human and constitutional right in Pakistan.”

The situation is tough. And time is running out. I would like to urge the global community to come forward and help the IDPs. This is a severe humanitarian crisis at hand and the risk of the spread of disease is imminent. The Pakistan army is battling the enemy within; an enemy that many in Pakistan believe was pampered and brought up by the West against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 80’s. We, the global community, can do it together and make this world a better, peaceful place to live for everyone.

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