UN fears disease outbreak at IDPs camp

| UNHCR rep says providing only shelter not enough | Unavailability of potable water, sanitation facilities can endanger lives | NGOs intervention needed

ISLAMABAD - The United Nations Refugee Agency fears outbreak of diseases among the internally displaced persons (IDPs), currently taking refuge in Bannu, urging the government to allow more humanitarian agencies or NGOs to help out the displaced people in need in line with humanitarian principles.
In an exclusive interview with The Nation on Tuesday, UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) Pakistan Country Representative Neil Wright said the unavailability of potable water, sanitation facilities and overstretched houses might put the displaced people at risk of diseases.
“We are really concerned about the health of tens of thousands of IDPs. Water resources are not enough even for the local population of Bannu. Finding mere a shelter is no solution, we have to give basic facilities to the people that have fled North Waziristan,” he asserted.
According to the latest data of Fata Disaster Management Authority (FDMA), around 800,000 people have fled North Waziristan since the military offensive against militants in the volatile tribal area was launched on June 15.
With over half a million people that poured into Bannu within a week, the government, through Ministry of SAFRON, asked the UNHCR on June 24 to engage in relief activities for the IDPs.
As more people are fleeing North Waziristan and taking refuge in nearby settled areas in KP, Wright said UNHCR could provide camps and non-food items to 500,000 people for six months only.
“In case the operation in North Waziristan lingers on, we must allocate more resources for the IDPs. We are still assessing the situation as it is quite difficult to handle tens of thousands of people within a week,” the UNHCR’s head added.
He said over 1,209 schools in Bannu had been occupied by IDPs that would be vacated once summer vacation came to an end, adding these displaced people would definitely look for alternative shelters soon.
“In such a situation, there is a need for NGOs and other humanitarian agencies to intervene and extend their expertise to cope with the situation. It is frustrating that NGOs have to go through a hectic process of getting NOCs before stepping in Bannu to help out the displaced people,” he observed.
To a question, Neil Wright said the huge influx of the IDPs to Bannu was a massive challenge for the host community that he said was already facing lack of infrastructures and arrival of the IDPs in the district would further put burden on the fragile resources in the area.
“The IDPs do not need water for drinking only. They have to take a bath and wash their clothes and utensils. Providing a space for living is no success,” the UNHCR said. adding the mass exodus of people from NWA was not ordinary development and should be taken seriously.
He said the chief commissioner for refugees and other officials of United Nations Refugee Agency were in Bannu on Tuesday to talk to different government agencies for allowing relief workers and NGOs so that the issue of providing services to IDPs could be tackled effectively.
To another question, Neil seemed dissatisfied with coordination among the government agencies, adding the authorities were confused about their actual jobs as more and more displaced people were arriving in Bannu and DI Khan.
To another question about the influx of North Waziristan people into Afghanistan, the UNHCR said the landlocked country was an easy destination for the affected people as there were not many check posts unlike their way in Pakistan.
“The UNHCR office in Afghanistan is in contact with us and thousands of families who fled North Waziristan have taken refuge in Khost, Paktika and Paktia provinces in Afghanistan,” he added.
Neil Wright asserted that rehabilitation of IDPs in their native areas in North Waziristan would be bigger challenge than giving shelter to them. “The government has to redevelop houses of people in the restive area that would be reduced to rubbles during the military offensive. Resettling the IDPs is more challenging job ahead,” he observed.
He questioned distribution of money only to IDPs of North Waziristan, terming it a double standard on part of the government as displaced people from other parts of tribal areas have not been given the financial benefit.
“The people have fled their houses in Khyber, Kurram, Orakzai and South Waziristan agencies, but they were not given money. They have equally suffered like the IDPs of North Waziristan, but were not given financial assistance,” Neil regretted.
So far UNHCR has distributed some 10,574 family kits of core relief items that include jerry cans, buckets, mosquito nets, mats, blankets, kitchen sets, plastic sheets, sanitary cloths and soap.
According to the latest government figures, some 786,107 individuals in 62,251 families have fled the fresh military operation against the Taliban in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region and 75 percent among them are women and children.

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