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Islamabad, 29 May 09

Displaced girls at Jalala camp collect food from a central distribution centre to carry back to their family tents © UN.org

UN-HABITAT and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have joined forces to provide shelter and other supplies to hundreds of thousands of people displaced by fighting in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province.

The violence, which broke out on 2 May, has driven more than 1.9 million people from their homes, on top of some 500,000 forced to flee fighting in the area last year. Only 10 per cent of the total of 2.4 million internally displaced persons in the South Asian nation’s north-west are living in camps. The remainder are seeking shelter with relatives or in rented accommodations and public buildings, such as schools.
Some of the most vulnerable are in the Mardan and Swabi districts where UN-HABITAT is distributing 5,000 UNHCR tents to families staying outside of camps within the local community. Distribution of the first batch of 1,131 tents began this week to those most in need in Babeni, Katlang II, Shamozo Union Councils of Mardan district, and will continue over the next week.

“Host families have seen their households double and even triple overnight as they’ve opened their doors to provide refuge to the displaced people. We are providing tents to particularly needy families which can be pitched within the grounds of their hosts to help alleviate crowded conditions,” said UNHCR Pakistan Representative Ms. Guenet Guebre-Christo.

Calling the scale of the displacement of civilians fleeing clashes between the Government and militants in north-west Pakistan “unprecedented,” the top United Nations humanitarian official this week urged donors to fund an appeal for more than 2 million uprooted in the conflict.

Last Friday, the UN and its partners launched a USD 543 million Humanitarian Action Plan. But UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mr. John Holmes said on Thursday that the appeal was so far only 21 per cent funded.

“Our view is that this is not remotely sufficient,” he said, adding that the world body and relief agencies will not be able to sustain their operations for more than another month unless they receive an influx of funds.

The UN, he added, had stepped up efforts to provide assistance in key sectors such as shelter, health, education, water and sanitation, and health, by delivering latrines, food and other supplies, as well as building a dozen new camps for the displaced people as numbers rise.

As part of that effort, UN-HABITAT is also assisting with the provision of hygiene kits and latrines and supporting minor repairs of shelters and boundary walls. The agency is also providing locally procured alternative shelter kits as appropriate and assisting with emergency repairs of community facilities such as water hand pumps and sanitation in local mosques.

“Displaced people residing with host families from the previous caseload and the new influx constitute the majority of the displaced population, yet they receive negligible support,” said UN-HABITAT Country Programme Manager Mr Siamak Moghaddam. “Our surveys show that they endure severely inadequate shelter and living conditions, including widespread overcrowding and poor sanitation. We are trying to reach the most vulnerable internally displaced persons with our intervention, including this joint effort with UNHCR.”

UNHCR said it planned to distribute more relief provisions as supplies and further funding come in. The agency has already begun distributing mattresses, blankets, buckets, kitchen sets and jerry cans to some 4,500 families staying in schools in Mardan.

This joint UN-HABITAT and UNHCR initiative is part of a longer term plan to assist in the safe and dignified return of the displaced people to their homes.

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