Quarter of a million Pakistanis flee fighting in Khyber: group

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 04, 2012 2:28 PM
Quarter of a million Pakistanis flee fighting in Khyber: group

By Nita Bhalla

NEW DELHI, April 4 (AlertNet) - A quarter of a million Pakistanis are in desperate need of food, water and medicine after being forced to flee their homes due to intensified fighting between the army and militants near the Afghan border, a leading aid group warned on Wednesday.

Save the Children says hundreds of thousands of people living in the volatile Khyber Agency have flooded into neighboring areas of Nowshera and Peshawar since January due to military operations against the Pakistani Taliban.

"We have 250,000 people currently displaced, of which 60,000 people were displaced in the last week alone and they are desperate for basic life-saving aid," Faris Kasim, Save the Children's spokesman, told AlertNet by phone from Islamabad.

"This is a serious humanitarian crisis and if fighting continues, we estimate that more than half a million are likely to be displaced. They are severely deprived and they need support from the international community and the government."

Khyber Agency is one of eight regions which make up Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), a semi-autonomous tribal region located along the porous border with Afghanistan, and a known base for militants.

The Pakistani army began counter offensive operations in late 2008 and has in recent years shifted its focus to the remote, mountainous region of FATA to root out militants.

In 2009, the fighting resulted in 2.3 million people fleeing towns and villages - mainly in the country's northwest region - leaving aid agencies and authorities struggling to cope with the speed and scale of crisis.

Kasim said that while most of the displaced from Khyber Agency had sought refuge with friends and relatives or were in camps, they had little access to basic aid.

"The biggest concern is that people don't have enough food and water. If they don't have sufficient food and clean water, they will get sick and will be prone to diseases and infections. Women and children are especially vulnerable," he said.

"There has been little attention on this issue and we just hope, that there will some aid coming in from different parts of the world so that we can respond as quickly as possible and avert a disaster."

(AlertNet is a humanitarian news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation. Visit http://www.trust.org/alertnet)

(Editing by Alison Williams)