Pakistan: Millions of IDPs and returnees face continuing crisis - a profile of the internal displacement situation



Millions of IDPs and returnees face continuing crisis

The ongoing wave of displacement in Pakistan is the single largest population movement recorded in the country since it was created in 1947. Under pressure to tackle the militancy which has taken root in the country, the government has launched successive military offensives in the past months across several districts of North West Frontier Province (NWFP), including Swat, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), including Mohmand, Bajaur, and South Waziristan.

The scale and geographic spread of the displacement, the fact that up to 90 per cent of internally displaced people (IDPs) sought shelter with host families, and registration and access problems have made it difficult to evaluate the total number of IDPs. In early July 2009 there were between 2.7 and 3.5 million IDPs in NWFP alone, and 30 camps were operating across the Province. However, most were anxious to return to their home areas as soon as fighting had moved on, and in November the UN estimated around 1.25 million people were still displaced. In FATA districts of Dera Ismail Khan and Tank, no camps have been set up to date, though UNHCR has distributed tents to families hosting IDPs.

However, conditions facing many returnees have not allowed them to become self-reliant again, and there are reports that IDP figures have been underestimated, particularly in FATA. In any event, IDP numbers alone do not reflect the total number of people who will require assistance to become self-reliant again.

The international community has struggled to respond to this huge displacement. Many aid agencies had to divert resources from development programmes. Funds for elements of the international humanitarian response have been committed and distributed with varying speed and to varying extents. By early July, when IDPs in NWFP started going home, only one third of the amount requested through the Pakistan Humanitarian Response Plan had been funded, but by November funding stood at 70 per cent.

Problems with access to conflict areas and wider insecurity have hampered humanitarian efforts. In November 2009, in response to deadly attacks in Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Islamabad, the UN applied stringent restrictions on the operations of international staff.

With reports of entire villages destroyed in NWFP, winter presenting new challenges, and no end in sight to the current military operation, there seems little room to hope that the growing needs of the displaced will be solved any time soon.