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NGOs fear humanitarian tragedy

Text by Marc LELLIEVRE

Latest update : 2009-05-12

As the Pakistani army and the Taliban engage in bitter fighting in the northwest of the country, nearly 500,000 civilians have started fleeing the conflict zone. NGOs fear an unprecedented crisis.

Pakistan is currently experiencing one of the most serious humanitarian crises in its history. Nearly half a million civilians have already fled fighting between the army and the Taliban in the northwest of the country. And this is definitely not finished. While some of the displaced have found refuge with relatives, many are in camps, such as those around the city of Mardan, 40 km from Peshawar.

Housed in tents, in temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius, these refugees have no running water or electricity. NGOs are struggling to cope with the influx. "The government should give us more time to prepare for the reception of displaced persons. We are short of doctors and medicines," said an NGO worker at the Jalala camp, near Mardan.

“We are short of blankets, cooking utensils, and there is no school for the children,” said Gulab Saher, a butcher from the town of Mingora, who fled Swat valley with his family. “There are so many people here that we need to queue for hours to get anything.”

Another problem: the lack of hygiene. According to NGOs on the ground, more and more people are suffering from stomach problems and skin infections - not to mention the psychological issues caused by the violence and fighting. The refugees’ stories are the same: the army began to bomb their area with helicopter gunships. Taking advantage of the temporary lifting of the curfew, the inhabitants of Swat gathered their things and fled the conflict area on foot, or by crowding in cars and trucks.

The fighting continues

On Sunday, soldiers ordered residents to evacuate the Swat valley and lifted the curfew for nine hours, creating at least 100,000 refugees on the move. The order suggests that the army is preparing a large-scale military operation against insurgents entrenched Mingora’s abandoned houses. The same day, the military announced it had killed 52 fighters in Swat.

Fighting continues in nearby Lower Dir, which borders Afghanistan, and Shangla district, east of Swat. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik said on Monday that military operations would continue "until all the fighters are eliminated”, while claiming that the army had killed 700 insurgents since the start of operations - information that is impossible to verify since the war zone is closed to journalists.


Date created : 2009-05-12