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Conflict intensifies as winter closes in on displaced families in Pakistan

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-1254/Ramoneda
Children look down from the terrace of their severely damaged home in Sultanwas Village, located in the Buner District of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province.

By Chris Niles

NEW YORK, USA, 26 October 2009 – Women and children in north-western Pakistan are once again on the move because of conflict in the region.

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Fighting between militants and government forces has moved to South Waziristan on the Afghanistan border. In little more than a week, about 57,600 people have taken refuge in the neighbouring districts of Dera Ismail Kahn and Tank. They are the latest of some 2.7 million people who have been displaced since conflict overwhelmed the region in August 2008.

Humanitarian access is impossible in Waziristan, but UNICEF is working with partners to reach the most vulnerable. 

Pre-positioning supplies

"Since we cannot be in Waziristan, we've installed a logistics base nearby, which is about one or two hours away from these locations. And this is where we operate from, for security reasons and for pre-positioning our stocks," said UNICEF Senior Emergency Specialist Marc Salvail.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-1107/Ramoneda
A girl from a displaced family looks out the window of a van as she waits in a long queue of vehicles to clear a security checkpoint in the town of Shergarh, located in Mardan District, North-West Frontier Province.

The ongoing emergency in Pakistan is complex. Since the conflict began, about 1.65 million displaced people have returned home. UNICEF is working with those families to ensure their well-being as well as that of families who have never left the conflict area.

Due to the recent upswing in violence, however, UNICEF must now ensure that those who have sought shelter in Dera Ismail Khan and Tank do not suffer unduly.

Swift humanitarian action

"Overall, the situation is quite precarious," said Mr. Salvail. "Luckily, the UN had established bases so that we could act swiftly. The latest influx of internally displaced people comes not as a surprise, but we had not expected that such a large number would move in so few days."

Despite the challenges, UNICEF has had success in reaching vulnerable children and families. Nearly 180,000 children from South Waziristan, and their hosts, have been immunized against measles – many for the first time in their lives. UNICEF is monitoring the situation very closely and is preparing to help those who become newly displaced in the coming weeks.

But little is known about the status of those who remain in Waziristan. "We have no access. We have no real information coming out of those areas that are quite restricted," said Mr. Salvail.

Winter on the way

In the meantime, another foe is advancing: Winter in the region is notoriously brutal under the best of circumstances.

"The international community has to ensure that stocks are in place and that people are provided with adequate shelter, adequate clothing and other materials that will isolate them from the harsh winter coming," Mr. Salvail asserted.




23 October 2009: UNICEF Senior Emergency Specialist Marc Salvail discusses the challenges in delivering aid to women and children affected by conflict in Pakistan.
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