Natural Disasters, Mily Action Displaced Millions

17 April 2008
The Nation

Karachi: Millions of displaced Baloch and Pushtoon people are living like refugees in worst condition due to the ongoing military operation in various parts of Balochistan and Waziristan while about 17,000 Kashmiris are still in refugee camps at the Pakistani side of the LoC, said a study report prepared by different NGOs. According to the report, the number of displaced people in Pakistan has increased during the year 2007 and they are still living in a refugee-like condition in their own country. The study conducted on the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) showed that natural disasters like cyclones, floods induced by torrential rains and sea intrusion, development projects, and military operation in Balochistan, NWFP and tribal areas bordering Afghanistan have displaced 1.5 million people during 2007. The October 2005 earthquake affected a lot of people who are yet to return home, said the Human Rights Council of Pakistan (HRCP) mentioning the reports published by foreign organisations. Reports said that military operations targeting alleged insurgent groups in parts of Balochistan, Waziristan, tribal areas and the Swat Valley were the main causes of conflict-inducted displacement in 2007. The exact statistics regarding such displacements are either unavailable or inconsistent. The government not only failed to prevent displacements caused by non-state actors but its own operations against alleged insurgents in areas populated by civilians displaced thousands of people. At the end of the 2007, the HRCP noted that around 80,000 residents had left their homes fearing aerial bombardments in North Waziristan Agency and most of the families left behind a single male member to watch over their houses. Meanwhile, the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reported the displacement of many civilians in South Waziristan who were fleeing after fierce fighting between local and foreign militants in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. It was also revealed in the report that during the period of last six months thousands of the people fled Bara Tehsil of Khyber Agency to escape armed clashes between rival groups. The IDPs in Balochistan largely remain invisible because of the ongoing military operation and restrictions on media to report the situation in those areas. Similarly, a UNICEF report said that 84,000 people displaced by the conflict in Balochistan are in immediate need of food aid. The government, on the contrary, claimed that thousands of displaced families have returned to their homes while the opposition parties insisted that over 100,000 people are still homeless. The displaced inhabitants of Kohlu and Dera Bugti districts of the Balochistan province are still waiting for return to their homes. A large number of displaced families, which are settled along railway tracks, canals, and highways, have been deprived of basic necessities of life and are facing miserable conditions. Many of them reportedly use drinking water from nearby paddy fields containing chemical fertilizers and pesticides making them vulnerable to kidney disease and hepatitis. Similar situation has been observed in other parts of the country, the HRCP, quoting the report of US Committee for Refuges and Immigrants said that 17,000 displaced Kashmiris are stuck in a refugee-like situation on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control. In January, some international aid agencies reported that the October 2005 earthquake has rendered about 60,000 families homeless and totally dependent on the governmental, local, and international NGOs for their survival. The reports also showed that in June and early July, severe floods by torrential rains and a major cyclone hit Pakistan and caused a huge displacement and destruction affecting more than 2.5 million people. Balochistan and Sindh provinces were affected badly where over 400 people died and nearly 400,000 displaced, said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said lately that around 2.5 million people were affected in 6,500 villages, while over 75,000 houses were destroyed in flood. The UN Human Settlement Programme workers, who toured the affected districts of Balochistan soon after the flood, reported that 80 to 90 per cent destruction was of mud houses besides huge damages to crops, livestock and food stores. Lack of medical facilities and pure water and inadequate shelter are the burning problems of the displaced people. In Balochistan 2,855 schools and 292 health centres were damaged as well, the report concluded.