Press Conference by UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia, Mr. Daniel Toole
UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia Dan Toole visited communities in Malakand Division yesterday, in his first visit to Pakistan since May of this year. On his previous visit, the challenges of delivering humanitarian assistance to the children and women who were among the largest internal displacement in Pakistan’s history were massive.
“I observed an impressive response to the crisis from the Government of Pakistan, UN agencies, and local and international NGOs, “said Mr. Toole.
“Now that the majority of the IDPs (Internally Displaced People) have returned to their homes, the next challenge is to expand our focus. We must ensure that we provide assistance not just to those who remain displaced, but also those who’ve returned to their homes. It’s also crucial that we reach those who remained behind – and were in too many cases unreachable by humanitarian assistance – during the conflict.”
Mr. Toole cited, among the key challenges now facing humanitarian efforts on behalf of children and families, the low levels of humanitarian access to previously conflict-hit areas, due to insecurity. He also emphasized the importance of ensuring equity in the distribution of assistance, so that it reaches those most in need. The importance of beginning the recovery process as quickly as possible, including the reconstruction or rehabilitation of the nearly 550 schools damaged or destroyed during the conflict, was also a key area of concern – as was the urgent need to provide assistance to children traumatized by the conflict and upheaval they’ve experienced.
As an initial response to the return, UNICEF has expanded assistance already being provided to IDPs and the often-overstretched communities that host them. Actions taken to respond to the urgent needs of returnees – and to the opportunity to begin providing assistance to those who stayed behind – include interventions in the areas of health and nutrition; water and sanitation; education; and children protection.
In order to prevent malnutrition, community-based therapeutic feeding programmes have been made available in 13 Union Councils of Swat and Buner Districts, and started on 1 October in all Union Councils of Lower Dir.
To help prevent the waterborne diseases that can be the largest killers of children in the aftermath of an emergency like this one, nearly 82,000 returnees have received jerry cans and water purification tablets to help them provide safe drinking water to their families.
As an immediate response to get returnee children – especially girls – back in school, we have sent nearly 18,000 school bags; 120 school tents; and 100 Schools-in-a-Box to areas of return. A new “Welcome to School” initiative aims to reach over 530,000 children in conflict-affected areas with an expanded series of actions, including providing them with temporary learning spaces where necessary; educational supplies; and special training for teachers in areas like helping children to recover from trauma and landmine-risk education.
To help affected children and their families to recover from the effects of trauma and other child protection issues, 80,000 family members have been directly or indirectly benefited to date by psychosocial support; health services; mine risk education; and monitoring child rights. Similar services are currently being expanded into areas of return.
While recognizing that important inroads have been made, Mr. Toole stressed that much remains to be done, and that it is essential to continue and, where possible, expand these actions into 2010.
“All children have the very same rights, whether they were displaced, have returned or remained behind during the conflict. We must ensure that all children affected by conflict in Pakistan have access to education; access to protection from harm; and access to life-saving interventions in the areas of health, nutrition and water and sanitation.”