Pakistan: Hundreds of thousands displaced in North Waziristan
Sagher Ullah is no stranger to hardships. He lost one of his legs at a young age, and since then he has learnt to negotiate the tough conditions of Pakistan’s remote North Waziristan. However, recent events have pushed Sagher to his limits.
“It would be better to go back home and risk living through the security operation than to stay in this unbearable heat,” he says wearily. Sagher is living in a small two-room rented apartment alongside 25 other people including his immediate family and relatives in the city of Bannu.
Along with hundreds of thousands of others, Sagher and his family fled their homes in North Waziristan earlier this month following a Pakistan military offensive against non-state armed actors. Their living conditions are extremely congested, they lack sanitation facilities and privacy, and the scorching temperatures have made life simply unbearable.
455,000 displaced since May
Targeted military operations in North Waziristan started in May followed by a full scale operation on 15 June. “The announcement of the operation was a shock for us even though we were expecting it,” says Sagher.“There was curfew imposed for the first four days in our area. The families, most of all the younger children were traumatized".
“After four days of agony, we were informed by community elders to leave the area and go to safer places.”
An estimated 455,000 people have been displaced. Most have sought refuge in Bannu and other neighbouring districts. Some families have even chosen to travel further to Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan to live with relatives or friends.
“It was a difficult decision for us to abandon our livestock and belongings and just leave,” says Sagher. “We reached Bannu with only the clothes on our backs.”
The Government has established a camp in Bannu for people displaced by the fighting. However, most families – like Sagher’s – have chosen to live off camp for want of privacy, security and basic facilities such as running water, electricity and sewerage.
This has not only stretched the meagre financial resources of displaced families, but the influx of nearly half a million people has put a major strain on local infrastructure.
The Government has released more than US$ 25 million to help North Waziristan’s displaced with accommodation, food and health facilities, and prepare for the upcoming month of Ramadhan. The Government has also provided the World Food Programme (WFP) with 25,000 metric tons of wheat (worth about $8.4 million) to distribute to those displaced.
Humanitarian community rallies
Due to the scope and magnitude of the crisis, the government has also requested the UN and its humanitarian partners to extend their support to North Waziristan’s displaced. In addition to distributing food, WFP has started pre-positioning supplies in anticipation of further displacements.
World Health Organization (WHO) staff are working alongside government health teams to provide basic health care, and WHO has also vaccinated about 146,000 people against polio.
These interventions have combined to make life for people like Sagher and his family more tolerable. But it’s not enough. Standing in a queue at a WFP distribution point, Sagher is worried about the growing number of the displaced and the needs of his family.
For him there is only one solution to all his problems – to go back home and live without any threat or fear. He wants to go back soon.