Renewed call for urgent humanitarian action in Pakistan

By agency reporter
May 22, 2009

Following the pledge made by the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, of an additional $110 million in humanitarian aid to Pakistan, the international relief and development agency Church World Service has called for immediate humanitarian attention to health services for the 1.5 million people displaced by ongoing battles between the Pakistan military and Taliban insurgents in the country’s North West region.

CWS Pakistan/Afghanistan Country Director Marvin Parvez, in New York City to raise funds for the response, said that unless immediate needs for water and sanitation in displacement camps are addressed, those uprooted will face serious health epidemics - a “second disaster.”

The United Nations has meanwhile appealed for a total of $543 million for the crisis. The UN said the "extraordinary" exodus had caused "incredible suffering".

In an expansion of its community health centre activities CWS’s health clinic in Mansehra, Pakistan, will make several mobile health clinics avaiable to serve displaced people and host families in the region. CWS has operated its health post in Mansehra for the past 30 years, serving vulnerable Pakistani residents and Afghan refugees who had lived in camps in the area for years, before being repatriated last year.

“Aid is needed today,” Parvez said, adding,
“Humanitarian aid is not moving as fast as the crisis is moving.” CWS, with staff and offices throughout Pakistan, was a lead agency for relief and rehabilitation following the 2005 Pakistan earthquake.

Parvez said those displaced by the fighting face a hot, difficult summer in camps with worsening conditions and the possibility of a protracted crisis which could extend into the winter months. Already, he added, the displacement of more than 1 million people has turned into the largest movement of people within Pakistan since the India-Pakistan partition of 1947. CWS has worked in Pakistan for more than 50 years.

The massive displacement also comes to a region with underlying problems of illiteracy and poverty which Parvez said must be addressed if long-term security is to take root.

According to Parvez, a central part of providing security is to address particular problems faced by women, who he described as more vulnerable in humanitarian crises.

“Many women arriving in camps for the displaced are traumatized. Many are pregnant. Women who are uprooted from their homes tend to suffer greater difficulties due to cultural norms,” Parvez said. “In this region, many of the women are unaccustomed to leaving their homes. To find themselves in the camps or in unknown communities is quite traumatic.”

CWS staff responding to the crisis report that although women received shelter kits, many do not receive food because they are afraid or unsure about going to the distribution points - an action perceived as mainly a ‘man’s responsibility’.

“Much of the female displaced population rarely leaves their houses. Fleeing from their homes and ending up alone in a camp is terrifying for them,” said Parvez. For this reason, some are too afraid to leave their tents to seek food for themselves and their children.

Assisting women and children remains a priority for church partners in their Pakistan response, as does helping provide greater accountability and quality of service by aid agencies responding to the current crisis — for example, assuring that meals served in displacement camps contain adequate calorie levels.

Beyond the immediate relief assistance, CWS has requested designation as a Humanitarian Accountability Project/Sphere focal point - or facilitator - for training and support to partner groups engaged in this crisis response.

CWS points out that it shapes its food aid and other disaster responses according to international quality and accountability standards set by the Sphere Project and the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP-International).

Church World Service is responding as part of a coordinated effort by Action by Churches Together members in Pakistan and has launched a U.S. fundraising campaign.

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