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WFP starts aid handout as IDPs frustration mounts

24 June, 2014

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BANNU: The World Food Programme (WFP) on Monday began distributing aid for hundreds of thousands who have fled a military offensive in Pakistan, as refugees expressed increasing frustration at delays in assistance and prospects for peace.

It has been just over a week since the army announced the start of its long-awaited offensive in North Waziristan, dubbed 'Zarb-e-Azb'.

The operation is aimed at flushing out Taliban and Qaeda militants from the North Waziristan tribal district along the Afghan border, their stronghold for several years.

The armed forces have unleashed their full arsenal of weaponry including jet fighters, tanks and artillery, killing around 300 people they have described as militants.

The operation has forced more than 450,000 people to flee, according to official figures, with many reaching the nearby town of Bannu just outside the tribal zone.

Sakeenullah Khan, a 32-year-old tribesman from Anghar village, said that for all the army's talk of a quick operation lasting just weeks, he was not hopeful of returning home soon.

"The IDPs (internally displaced people) from South Waziristan are still out of their homes and so are those from Khyber, so we doubt peace will return soon," he said, referring to other army offensives in recent years.

Forty-year-old Meera Jan, who spoke to AFP from a refugee registration point, said he had already lost his small business after fleeing smaller military strikes over the years.

"I have left my home three times to save my children. I have lost my small business and my house was destroyed, but we never saw any compensation from the government," he added.

In addition to their long-term worries, the refugees face immediate concerns such as a lack of basic supplies, including food.

They are forced to live either in tents under the scorching summer heat or to pay exorbitant rents for houses.

The WFP began distributing rations including wheat flour, cooking oil, lentils and high-energy biscuits on Monday through a local non-government partner, after police were forced to disperse thousands of protesters angered by hours of delays.

Noor Bat Khan, a 60-year-old resident from Esori village in North Waziristan, criticised authorities for taking so long to act and for not setting up enough centres.

"The authorities should set up more distribution points as it will be difficult for the displaced persons to wait for their turn in scorching heat," he said.

Said Nawaz, a 44-year-old who had just arrived in the town from Khutab Khel village in North Waziristan following a temporary curfew relaxation, said he hoped the military would drive out the insurgents for good this time.

"We were stuck between the militants and the military for years. Now the government should bomb every house, mosque and markets to eliminate them. We need peace after our sacrifices," he said.

"You can live under one government, but Waziristan was being ruled by two - the Taliban and the army. So you need to abolish one of them."

Zardari asks PPP leadership to facilitate KP IDPs

Pakistan People's Party Co-Chairman Asif Ai Zardari Monday asked the party leadership to reach out to the internally displaced persons in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and render all possible assistance in their relief and rehabilitation.

A large number of tribal families have moved out of North Waziristan due to the military operation against militant hideouts, adding to the already bulging population of IDPs in the province. Official estimates put the figures of registered IDPs at over four hundred thousand, and many more are still pouring in.

"The internally displaced persons in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are our heroes and heroines who are undergoing untold sufferings and miseries in the nation's drive against militants and they must not be left alone in their hour of tribulation," Zardari said in a message conveyed to the party leaderships at the Centre and all the provinces.

According to a statement issue by spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Babar, the former president directed the provincial PPP President Khanzada Khan to draw up a workable plan in consultation with the party officials for the rehabilitation of IDPs in the province involving also party chapters in other provinces in providing material assistance in the gigantic task. He said special attention should be given to providing transport, shelter, food and healthcare besides cash relief to the streams of people pouring out of troubled tribal regions.

The spokesperson said that the former president also directed the parliamentarians of the party to raise their voice in parliament for addressing the problems faced by the IDPs and for setting up of Victims' Rehabilitation Fund for the relief and rehabilitation of the internally displaced persons.

He also directed the party's parliamentarians to brief the international community and the diplomats about the humanitarian crisis and the need for international assistance in the relief and rehabilitation of IDPs. "The fight against militants is a global fight and the world community must also fulfill its responsibilities in providing generous assistance for the relief and rehabilitation of the displaced families," he said.

Zardari said that besides being a huge humanitarian issue, the displaced persons were also a national asset in the fight against militants. "We must do everything possible to make the displaced persons believe that the sacrifices made by them in leaving their hearth and homes and living in tented camps in scorching heat are being recognised and that they are not being abandoned.

Abandoning the IDPs or mishandling the issue will give handle to the opponents of the operation to demand an end to the fight against militants," the former president warned.

End.

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