Displacement caused by conflict and natural disasters, achievements and challenges


Pakistan has faced a series of displacement crises due to natural disasters and armed conflict in recent years. 19 million people have been displaced by earthquakes and flooding and over five million by armed conflict over the past seven years. In December 2011, more than half a million people were still displaced following the flooding of the Indus in September, and almost one million remained internally displaced by armed conflict in the north-west.

Conflict continued to cause displacement in 2011. Since April, major displacements have taken place in Kurram and Khyber agencies of the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (FATA), and in a number of other locations.

Responses to the displacement, coordinated by the government, have included some important achievements. Millions of people have received food, household items, temporary shelters and cash assistance, and widespread death caused by malnutrition and communicable diseases has consistently been avoided.

However, there have been significant limitations, particularly in the process of registering internally displaced people (IDPs); in the lack of a comprehensive government policy on IDPs; and in the lack of access for humanitarian agencies. The government’s budget allocation for IDPs remains low and humanitarian responses rely almost entirely on foreign funding.

In 2010, some 11 million people were displaced by flooding of the Indus river, and as many as four million people were displaced during the 2011 monsoon season. The impact of natural disasters in Pakistan, and particularly their impact on women, is cause for concern. The provision of food assistance, non-food items and cash support to those displaced by the 2010 and 2011 floods was mainly channelled through registered male heads of household. Following the 2005 earthquake, the 2007, 2010 and 2011 floods and the 2009-2011 displacement crises in the northwest, almost identical concerns had been raised and policy suggestions made.

There are also persistent obstacles to durable solutions for those who are unable to safely return to their place of origin. Return for those displaced by conflict in the north-west is hindered by insecurity and difficulty in recovering livelihoods, shelter and access to basic services. In Kurram, where the last of the major displacement waves in 2011 took place, abandoned property must be returned to its rightful owners and credible security guarantees must be offered and enforced for returns to be durable.