Flood of displaced civilians in Pakistan surpasses 1.45 million

News Stories, 19 May 2009

© UNHCR/A.Fazzina
A displaced Pakistani girl carries a bucket of rice as her sister follows in Yar Hussain camp.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, May 19 (UNHCR) The flood of displaced people fleeing the conflict in and around north-west Pakistan's Swat Valley is the largest and swiftest to take place anywhere in the world in recent years. According to Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) Social Welfare Department, 1,454,377 people have been registered since just May 2. The number of registration centres now stands at 89.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, who met some of displaced people during a three-day visit to Pakistan last week, has called for urgent and massive international help from governments and other donors for those left homeless by fighting.

Guterres said at the weekend that humanitarian workers were struggling to keep up with the size and speed of the displacement and warned of the consequences if the uprooted people and tens of thousands of host families trying to care for them don't get help fast.

"It's like trying to catch something that's moving ahead of us because the number of people on the move every day is so big and the response is never enough," he told reporters on Sunday. "Leaving this population without the support they need with such massive numbers could constitute an enormous destabilizing factor."

Ron Redmond, UNHCR's chief spokesperson, said Tuesday of the massive displacement crisis, "We haven't seen anything so big and so fast in years."

In addition to calling for international help, UNHCR is encouraging local donations. This week, the UNHCR office in Islamabad set up a dedicated bank account at Standard Chartered Bank to receive cash donations from the public for its operations.

Separately, it established a relief bank and distribution centre in the NWFP town of Nowshera to receive and hand out non-cash, so called "in kind," contributions such as pillows, soap, simple water coolers and new summer clothing. Additional relief banks are planned for the cities of Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi.

The vast majority of the 1.45 million recently displaced 1,323,427 are living outside of camps set up for the displaced. UNHCR is stepping up its aid to them, in particular. On Tuesday, UNHCR's local NGO partner, SRSP (Sarhad Rural Support Programme), distributed kitchen sets, plastic mats, buckets and jerry cans to displaced people staying in three schools in Mardan district.

In the NWFP district of Mardan alone, at least 67 schools are hosting displaced families. Meanwhile, rising temperatures and the onset of summer are posing a fresh set of challenges. UNHCR, for example, is urgently seeking shade cloth and poles to construct sun screens over and between tents as part of a "summerization" programme.

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Internally Displaced People

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Pakistan Earthquake: A Race Against the Weather

With winter fast approaching and well over a million people reported homeless in quake-stricken Pakistan, UNHCR and its partners are speeding up the delivery and distribution of hundreds of tonnes of tents, blankets and other relief supplies from around the world.

In all, the NATO-UNHCR airlift, which began on 19 October, will deliver a total of 860 tonnes of supplies from our stockpiles in Iskenderun, Turkey. Separately, by 25 October, UNHCR-chartered aircraft had so far delivered 14 planeloads of supplies to Pakistan from the agency's stocks in Copenhagen, Dubai and Jordan.

On the ground, UNHCR is continuing to distribute aid supplies in the affected areas to help meet some of the massive needs of an estimated 3 million people.

Pakistan Earthquake: A Race Against the Weather

Pakistan Earthquake: The Initial Response

The UN refugee agency is providing hundreds of tonnes of urgently needed relief supplies for victims in northern Pakistan. UNHCR is sending family tents, hospital tents, plastic sheeting, mattresses, kitchen sets, blankets and other items from its global stockpiles. Within a few days of the earthquake, just as its substantial local stocks were all but exhausted, UNHCR began a series of major airlifts from its warehouses around the world, including those in Denmark, Dubai, Jordan and Turkey.

UNHCR does not normally respond to natural disasters, but it quickly joined the UN humanitarian effort because of the sheer scale of the destruction, because the quake affected thousands of Afghan refugees, and because the agency has been operational in Pakistan for more than two decades. North West Frontier Province (NWFP), one of the regions most severely affected by the quake, hosts 887,000 Afghan refugees in camps.

While refugees remain the main focus of UNHCR's concern, the agency is integrated into the coordinated UN emergency response to help quake victims.

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Pakistan Earthquake: Major push to Bring in Aid before Winter

With the snow line dropping daily, the race to get relief supplies into remote mountain areas of Pakistani-administered Kashmir intensifies. In a major push to bring aid to the people in the Leepa Valley, heavy-lift Chinook helicopters from the British Royal Air force airlifted in 240 tonnes of UNHCR emergency supplies, including tents, plastic sheeting, stoves, and kitchen sets.

At lower elevations, UNHCR and its partners have dispatched emergency teams to camps to train members of the Pakistani military in site planning, camp management, winterization and the importance of water and sanitation – all crucial to containing disease during the long winter ahead.

By mid-November, UNHCR had provided a total of 19,356 tents, 152,325 blankets, 71,395 plastic sheets and tens of thousands of jerry cans, kitchen sets and other supplies. More of the agency's supplies are continuing to arrive in Pakistan on various airlifts, including a 103-flight joint NATO/UNHCR airlift from Turkey. Other UNHCR airlifts have brought in supplies from the agency's warehouses in Jordan, Dubai and Denmark.

Pakistan Earthquake: Major push to Bring in Aid before Winter

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