Children and women displaced by conflict in Pakistan need urgent and ongoing support
GENEVA, 3 July 2009 – UNICEF is deeply concerned about the condition of thousands of children who have been displaced by conflict, or who remain in affected areas, in north-western Pakistan. Nearly 50 per cent of the estimated 2 million displaced are children, many of whom are in urgent need of health and educational services, nutritional support, access to clean water and sanitation as well as protection. Their situation has been compounded by the harsh summer temperatures.
UNICEF is especially concerned that some 700,000 children are due to start the new school year in September in 3,700 schools that are currently occupied by 150,000 IDPs. If these schools are not vacated and rehabilitated soon, the education of all these children will be interrupted. Some of these children could even drop out of the education system permanently.
The speed and magnitude of the crisis has stretched the capacity of the government, host communities and humanitarian actors to the limit. Though fighting is reported to have subsided in Swat and Buner, IDPs continue to seek refuge in camps and communities in northern parts of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and new displacements are being recorded into southern parts of the province due to military operations in South Waziristan.
“In Pakistan we face a unique humanitarian challenge, since the vast majority of the displaced are seeking shelter in host communities which are far more difficult to reach with basic services than in the camps,” said UNICEF’s Director of Emergency Programmes, Louis-Georges Arsenault.
While basic needs are being met in camps, the situation is critical for the vast majority of IDPs living in host communities. In the thousands of school buildings that have been converted into IDP shelters and other spontaneous camps that have sprung up throughout parts of NWFP to cope with the influx of people from conflict-affected areas, children and families are living in cramped conditions with limited to negligible access to safe drinking water and sanitation - and are difficult to reach with basic hygiene materials and education to decrease the likelihood of water borne diseases. At equal risk are host communities who are shouldering the burden with limited resources and fragile infrastructure in the aftermath of food prices spikes that took root in 2007.
UNICEF is working closely with the government of Pakistan and other partners to provide services and information to displaced children and women. To prevent the outbreak of diseases, over 200,000 children have been vaccinated against measles and 230,000 people receive safe drinking water and hygiene education in IDP camps and communities. To date, 47,400 children and 20,400 mothers have been screened for malnutrition, and the 11,000 moderately malnourished have received care within their own communities. While malnutrition rates are presently low, the vulnerability of the population requires sustained support to prevent the situation from deteriorating rapidly.
The Pakistan Humanitarian Response Plan, revised in May to cope with new displacements caused by the military operations in Swat and Buner, has so far raised less than a third of the $543 million required to support 1.7 million IDPs for six months. As part of the Appeal, UNICEF requested $52 million. To date $22.5 million has been received from donors and is in hand –and another $9.3 million has been pledged.
“Without sufficient funding, it will be impossible to ensure that thousands of children and families affected by the conflict have the services and support they require in the time of their greatest need. Equally important is support to the host communities who are struggling to cope with their new found burden,” said Arsenault.