Pakistan Relief Efforts Under Threat, Say Agencies

When top EU officials meet with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari this week, the plight of the more than one million people affected by fighting in the country's Swat valley must be first on the agenda, insist nine major international aid agencies.

The agencies, which include faith-based CAFOD/Caritas and World Vision, say they urgently need funding in order to scale up their response in Pakistan and prevent a greater humanitarian crisis.

Presently, the agencies are under threat due to a lack of funds, facing a shortfall in excess of $42 million (USD). Some agencies risk having to downsize their relief programs or close altogether if funding isn't received soon.

"While we wait for funds, vulnerable people are struggling to meet their very basic needs," reported Graham Strong, World Vision Pakistan's country director.

Since the Pakistani army launched an offensive late April to expel Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants occupying the northwest area of Pakistan, close to the border with Afghanistan, millions of people have fled their homes.

Around 80 percent of the former residents of the region have since found shelter in neighboring host communities, according to reports. Those who have found themselves in one of the displaced persons' camps that were installed, meanwhile, find themselves surrounded by an increasing number of people in places with insufficient sanitary and medical facilities.

"Pakistani families are sharing their homes, food, clothes and water with those fleeing violence. They are poor already and are making themselves poorer in the process," commented Strong, whose agency has been able to reach 3,500 people with health kits, mattresses and essential household items with limited private donations.

World Vision's assessment of the crisis found people are in great need of improved health services, hygiene, education, water, shelter and sanitation facilities.

In making last Thursday's appeal, the Christian humanitarian group joined together with ActionAid, CAFOD/Caritas, Care, Concern Worldwide, Islamic Relief, Merlin, Oxfam, and Save the Children.

The appeal was made less than a week before the first-ever EU-Pakistan summit on June 17 in Brussels, where EU officials will meet Pakistan's president.