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UNHCR concerned about crisis in Balochistan despite receding waters


UNHCR concerned about crisis in Balochistan despite receding waters

The refugee agency says conditions in thousands of spontaneous settlements and camps that have sprung up over the last few weeks are desperate.
3 September 2010
Children outside their family tent on the outskirts of Quetta, capital of Balochistan province.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, September 3 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency said Friday that the overall humanitarian situation in Pakistan was still very grave despite flood waters receding in some areas and more people returning home.

"Conditions in the thousands of spontaneous settlements and camps that have sprung up over the last few weeks are desperate," a UNHCR spokesman said, adding: "We have had reports overnight of new flooding in parts of Dadu Tehsil in Sindh province as embankments are breached."

Of particular concern to UNHCR is the growing crisis in Balochistan province, which has had scant attention compared to areas closer to the Indus River. Almost 2 million people there are still being affected by floods, including 600,000 who fled from neighbouring Sindh province. There is a persistent threat of waterborne disease, shortages of shelter and limited food for children.

"By any definition it is a humanitarian tragedy in Balochistan. We need to scale up our activities in the province, or else I think we are heading for a major humanitarian disaster there," said Mengeshe Kebede, UNHCR's representative to Pakistan after returning from a visit to the province.

"I have worked in humanitarian situations globally and worked in refugee camps in Africa during emergencies, but to be honest I had never seen a situation as devastating as I saw in Balochistan," Kebede said, adding: "We need to revamp and look at the areas of sanitation, shelter, food and health care."

In southern Sindh, where floodwaters hit Thatta and surrounding districts last week, thousands of families are now living on streets without water and sanitation. According to the authorities about 20 per cent of people displaced by floods in this area are returning to their villages to salvage and protect property.

People returning by boat will remain cut off until waters recede further. Others, however, are expected to remain displaced for several months. There is an urgent need to improve conditions for the displaced and support people in returning home.

As elsewhere in Pakistan, UNHCR has stepped up its operation in Sindh with new offices in Karachi and Sukkur to manage operations in the south and north of the province. The agency has deployed site planners and other technical staff to advise local officials on the management and coordination of camps, as well as continuing distribution of shelter supplies.

UNHCR is also deploying additional protection staff to identify the needs of particularly vulnerable people.