UNHCR airlift of emergency aid arrives in Pakistan as number of displaced passes 500,000

The number of registered, displaced people uprooted by the conflict in Pakistan surpassed 500,000 as a UNHCR-chartered cargo jet delivered 120 tonnes of aid.

A consignment of Pakistan-bound UNHCR aid is loaded onto a chartered aircraft in Dubai.  © UNHCR photo

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, May 12 (UNHCR) - The number of registered, displaced people uprooted by the current conflict in north-west Pakistan surpassed half a million on Tuesday as a UNHCR-chartered cargo jet delivered 120 tonnes of additional relief supplies for immediate distribution to those fleeing the fighting.

The aid plane arrived in Islamabad on Tuesday afternoon with 10,000 mosquito nets, 14,000 plastic sheets for emergency shelters, 1,500 plastic rolls to build walls and privacy screens in camps, and two portable warehouses from the refugee agency's stockpiles in Dubai. The supplies were loaded onto seven trucks and taken to UNHCR's warehouse in Peshawar, and then distributed to various sites hosting displaced people in North West Frontier Province.

Minister for State and Frontier Regions Najamudiin Khan, who was at the airport when the aircraft landed, thanked UNHCR for the aid consignment and for its work in helping the needy. "We are making an appeal to the UN and to other countries to help us with our IDP (internally displaced people) crisis," he added.

Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) facilitated the emergency flight, as well as the provision of an additional 10,000 tents to UNHCR, for the emergency operation.

The airlifted consignment will bolster the thousands of relief supplies such as tents, kitchen sets, jerry cans, sleeping mats and blankets, either locally procured or from UNHCR's existing stockpiles in Pakistan, which UNHCR is currently distributing alongside non-government partners and local authorities, as part of a joint UN response.

"UNHCR is responding as quickly as possible to meet the basic needs of the displaced people. But we need to support them morally, psychologically and materially and ensure they can feel the solidarity that is being extended to them. The speed of our response is critical," said Guenet Guebre-Christos, UNHCR's representative in Pakistan.

As of late Tuesday, a total of 501,496 displaced people from the new influx had been formally registered by authorities, with UNHCR's help, since May 2. Of these new arrivals, 72,707 are staying in camps and 428,789 people are staying with relatives, friends or host communities - including locals who have opened their doors to receive people fleeing the fighting.

People are being registered in camps and in 38 registration points that have been established by the Directorate of Social Welfare with UNHCR's help in Swabi, Mardan, Nowshera, Charsadda, Kohat and Peshawar. More are being set up daily.

The Mardan, Sheikh Yasin, Sheikh Shahzad and Jalala camps are now full and people are being directed to other camps where there is room, such as Jalozai in Nowshera, or the soon to be opened Shah Mansoor site in Swabi. UNHCR site planners are assessing the suitability of land for additional camps, and working to improve conditions and capacity in existing ones.

On Tuesday, UNHCR field teams were also assessing conditions in the hundreds of spontaneous settlements that have sprung up in the districts of Mardan and Swabi - in schools, colleges, flour mills, stadiums, parks, private land and other sites - to identify the most urgent needs.

In Geneva, High Commissioner António Guterres said the speed and scale of the crisis was posing huge challenges for the government and the humanitarian community. More resources were urgently needed and UNHCR was calling for international solidarity to help Pakistanis uprooted in the crisis. Guterres said Pakistanis in the north-west region had for decades been extremely generous to millions of Afghan refugees and now that they themselves were uprooted, they deserved international help.

As part of a joint UN response, UNHCR is providing shelter and other relief supplies to the latest influx of displaced people from Swat, Buner and Lower Dir. UNHCR is also working with its local partner, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), assisting the local authorities to register people, and has set up reception centres on the main routes out of the conflict zones into the safer areas in Mardan and Swabi.

These reception centres, run by our local partner the Sarhad Rural Support Programme, are providing information and transport to camps and other areas to those who need it. Food and water are also being provided by individuals and local organizations.

By Ariane Rummery in Islamabad, Pakistan