Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

New wave of people reported leaving remote Pakistani valley


New wave of people reported leaving remote Pakistani valley

Hundreds - if not thousands - of families are reportedly heading down to Balakot in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province, after the road to a remote valley was cleared last weekend. As the UNHCR/NATO airlift enters its second phase, the Pakistan army, UNHCR and other aid agencies are preparing themselves for a possible large influx of newcomers into camps in the area.
8 November 2005
New arrivals from the Kaghan valley describing their situation at Jaba camp near Balakot in northern Pakistan.

JABA CAMP, Pakistan, November 8 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency said on Tuesday that it is readying itself for a fresh wave of homeless people leaving a remote valley in northern Pakistan on a newly-cleared road, just as the massive joint airlift with NATO from a Turkish airbase entered its second phase.

The main road between the Kaghan valley and Balakot in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province was opened last weekend, unleashing a stream of people leaving the devastated valley in cars and trucks, and on foot, UNHCR said. The agency's staff in the area had reported seeing many families on the road, but it was unclear where they were all heading.

"They're coming. You won't find enough space for them here," said Kaghan valley nazim (mayor) Junaid Qasim at Jaba farm, an organized camp mid-way between Mansehra and Balakot that can host 6,000 people. "You need at least four to five such camps for these newcomers."

Javid Ahmad and his family of seven arrived at Jaba camp on Monday with nothing but the clothes on their backs. "We walked for three days from the valley. Fifty more families from our village are coming," he said.

Sadiq Shah is also new to the camp. After losing his wife and two-year-old daughter in the earthquake, he and his remaining four children were airlifted to Balakot from Paras village in the Kaghan valley. "There are more than 300 families in my village. Now that the road is clear, they will be here in a day or two," said Shah.

Anticipating a possible major influx, UNHCR immediately sent 200 additional tents, plastic sheets and jerry cans to Jaba camp. A total of 400 UNHCR and Islamic Relief Organization tents have already been pitched by the Pakistan army, and more land is being cleared on the terraces to accommodate the new tents. The army has mobilized 120 soldiers to speed up the camp construction, and has also engaged its existing residents to do carpentry and other construction work.

UNICEF is providing water in tanks, and hopes to be able to pipe it in within days. Oxfam is building latrines, while Médecins du Monde is providing health care. The International Islamic Relief Organization is cooking three hot meals a day and building a tandoor stove to provide fresh bread for breakfast. The UNHCR site planner is also identifying suitable sites to build schools and play areas for the camp's children.

If necessary, Bassian camp in Balakot - already home to more than 2,800 people - could be expanded to accommodate a few hundred additional families. UNHCR has also identified three new sites that could be developed into camps if more people arrive from the Kaghan valley.

Thirty trucks of UNHCR relief items are on their way to the area to boost supplies on the ground. The agency is currently supporting 18 organized camps with a capacity to host up to 32,300 people in the Balakot, Batagram and Muzaffarabad areas. It is also working with partners on the ground to reach out to hundreds of spontaneous camps scattered throughout the affected areas.

While winter and survival are at the top of people's minds right now, the thought of home is never far away. "I will stay for winter," said Javid Ahmad, a new arrival at Jaba camp. "I had a big house back in the village. If I can get help with building materials, I can repair it and move back in spring, insh'Allah."

In Geneva, UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis said the first phase of a NATO airlift carrying 860 tonnes of UNHCR aid supplies from the agency's stockpiles in Turkey was completed on Monday.

In all, she said, during this first phase, which began on October 19, a total of 68 sorties were flown by the seven participating NATO countries (Turkey, France, UK, USA, Denmark, Italy, Greece). NATO and UNHCR agreed to launch a second phase of the airlift, which began straight away on Monday night and is set to transfer a further 800 tonnes of UNHCR supplies from emergency stockpiles in Turkey, Jordan and Denmark.

"In this second phase, we'll be delivering another 320,000 blankets, 30,000 mattresses, 1,000 family tents and other materials," Pagonis said. "About 300 tonnes of supplies in the second phase will come from our stocks in Turkey and the government there has generously agreed to provide trucks and personnel to move it from our warehouse in Iskenderun to Incirlik [airbase]."

Since the 8 October earthquake, UNHCR has delivered over 2,000 tonnes of emergency relief supplies to Pakistan from its stockpiles around the world. In addition to the NATO airbridge, the UN refugee agency has sent 14 planeloads of supplies from its stockpiles in Denmark, Dubai and Jordan, as well as convoys of supplies overland from warehouses in Afghanistan and Iran. Pagonis said it was also planning to bring in 40,000 blankets from India.

Pagonis stressed that the needs are massive, and the resources are still lagging far behind. According to the government of Pakistan, more than 241,000 tents and 3.8 million blankets are needed.

"Of this huge amount," she said, "UNHCR will be providing half a million blankets and over 20,000 family tents from our global stocks. We are continuing to look for additional sources of supplies, but our efforts are still hobbled by a lack of funds."

On Monday, Norway announced a $1 million donation to UNHCR, bringing the total provided for the agency's earthquake operation so far to $6.7 million. However, UNHCR's immediate needs are for $18 million just to see it through to the end of November.

"That amount would help us to reach a target of 30 camps for up to 150,000 people," Pagonis said. The new influx from the Kaghan valley simply highlighted the urgency of the situation, with dozens of isolated villages still not receiving any assistance at all, and insufficient supplies reaching many others.

By Vivian Tan in Jaba camp, northern Pakistan