New Influx of Pakistani Refugees Compounds Relief Woes

Christian relief groups are working furiously to provide basic shelter, food, water and sanitation to the hundreds of thousands displaced by the fighting in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) in Pakistan.

But relief workers in the region say temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, overcrowding, inadequate toilets and a lack of electricity make refugee camps in and around northwest Pakistan "intolerable."

"Many children and their families have walked for days to reach camps like this one," reported Jeff Hall, World Vision's deputy director for advocacy in the Middle East, from a camp set up in Swabi.

"They have fled the fighting, left behind their livelihoods, and arrived at the camps exhausted and afraid," Hall continued. "Despite the coordinated efforts of the Pakistani authorities, World Vision, and other aid agencies on the ground, we may not be able to meet the most basic needs of the refugees as quickly as they are arriving in the camps if it continues at this pace."

The U.N. said Monday that 360,600 displaced people had registered in camps and centers since May 2 after fleeing the Swat Valley and neighboring Dir and Buner districts. Intense fighting between militant groups and the Pakistani forces in and around the areas has driven families from their homes, adding to the 550,000 people already displaced over the past three years of violence.

According to alliance members of ACT (Action by Churches Together) International, the majority of IDPs are fleeing with few possessions and most are taking shelter with relatives or in rented accommodation in the surrounding areas. Presently there are six camps in Dir, Mardan and Swabi districts accommodating approximately 1,200 families.

World Vision's assessment team in Swabi, meanwhile, reported that the number of refugees arriving in the camps could increase dramatically in the coming days if hostilities are not contained, straining the already limited resources in the region, and the camps may not be able to keep providing basic services to the families as more and more people flee their homes.

With the new influx in NWFP, there are substantial recognized gaps. UN OCHA will decide early this week whether to revise a previously launched U.N. appeal which has only received 33 percent funding, or to launch a new appeal.