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UNHCR phases out of Pakistan's quake zone

Briefing notes

UNHCR phases out of Pakistan's quake zone

1 September 2006

UNHCR yesterday closed its offices in Pakistan's earthquake-affected areas and handed over full responsibility for the management of relief camps to the local authorities. From now until the end of the year, we will be advising the authorities through the UN Resident Coordinator's office and our partner, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

With a mandate to help refugees fleeing war and persecution, UNHCR does not normally get involved in natural disasters. But we had to help after 2004's tsunami and last October's earthquake, given the sheer scale of the disasters and our existing presence in Sri Lanka and Pakistan. From the start, our involvement in this relief effort was time-limited - until the end of the winter, and then we would phase out by 1 September 2006.

Immediately after the earthquake, UNHCR opened its warehouses in Pakistan and distributed relief items to the quake survivors. We also mobilized thousands of tonnes of emergency supplies from our stockpiles in Afghanistan, Denmark, Dubai, India, Iran, Jordan and Turkey. To date, we have distributed more than 21,000 tents, over 115,000 plastic sheets, close to 850,000 blankets, over 38,000 mattresses, and some 25,000 stoves/heaters in the quake zone.

At the height of the emergency operation, UNHCR had some 150 staff in Pakistan. We are grateful to the donor community for its contribution of nearly $35 million to support this effort.

As the UN's lead agency for camp management in the relief effort, UNHCR supported the government in the running of some 170 temporary relief camps for earthquake survivors in North West Frontier Province and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. We provided material and technical support to the authorities and coordinated with different UN agencies and NGOs to ensure basic services in the camps.

Since the start of spring in March, more than 140,088 quake survivors have left the camps for home and over 130 camps in the quake zone are now closed. Some 36,000 people remain in 44 relief camps.

In the months leading up to the handover, UNHCR upgraded and maintained services in the remaining camps. At the same time, we identified partners in the UN and NGO community to make sure basic services would continue in the camps.

From August until the end of this year, UNHCR and our partner, NRC, will second advisors to the UN Resident Coordinator's Office (UNRC) and provincial authorities to capacitate the government by providing expertise on camp management for the remaining camp dwellers. One additional advisor has already been serving as a protection focal point for Pakistan-administered Kashmir under the UN Resident Coordinator structure since 1 August.