As the military operation continues, the IDPs face the worst of times
As the operation in North Waziristan goes on at full throttle, with the armed forces inching closer to eliminating terrorists from the area every day, the plight of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) remains aggravated. Expectedly, the military operation resulted in a mass exodus of people from the region. According to official figures, about one million people and thousands of families have been displaced so far from North Waziristan.
Relief camps were set up by the government in the district of Bannu, which is the closest settled area to North Waziristan. However, the current pace of relief efforts is too slow to effectively cater to the growing needs of IDPs. Not only are the IDPs largely deprived of basic amenities but the displacement has also rendered them culturally vulnerable.
Whilst the Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa (KPK) government maintains that the announcement of the operation came as a surprise; not allowing it to prepare for the IDPs, the federal government apparently had no solid plan either. Although the likelihood of a military action had increased in the months leading up to it, the federal budget, announced two weeks before the official start of operation, did not have any funds allocated for the IDPs. Now that the number of displaced people has unexpectedly risen to nearly a million, the government has been caught off-guard.
One of the most pressing problems for IDPs is the lack of appropriate shelter. While many have to wait for days in queues in excruciating summer heat to receive relief goods, a large number of people are now deprived of any reasonable shelter. Reportedly, a lot of people have now left the government camps due to the unfit living conditions. Many have scattered to live with their extended families in nearby places and some have also moved to distant places. The privacy of women is also a major reason why many families have left the overly crowded camps or did not shift their at all in the first place.
In a statement last week, Human Rights Watch, an international group, criticised the government for not allowing NGOs to freely carry out relief work.
For those living in the camps, the make-shift living conditions are hardly showing any signs of improvement. While waiting for food in long queues is common, the lack of potable water is a major issue as well. Absence of any appropriate sanitation system and healthcare facilities are also major hurdles, towards which little attention is being paid, that can potentially aggravate the conditions in IDP camps. Although, the relief efforts need to be expedited, the government has been refusing assistance from domestic and international NGOs. Media has also been allowed a highly restricted access to the IDP camps, making the army’s ISPR the only active sources of information.
In a statement last week, Human Rights Watch, an international group, criticised the government for not allowing NGOs to freely carry out relief work. The statement said that the government was purposely delaying official permissions to many NGOs to hamper the relief activities. The government remains wary of using the assistance from NGOs after the 2005 earthquake when, it is believed, some foreign secret agents became active under the guise of NGO workers.
However, it seems, for some holy exceptions “No Objection Certificates” are not a requirement. Falah-e-Insaaniyat Foundation (FIF), a subsidiary of Jammat ud Dawa, has been very active in carrying out relief work in the area ever since the arrival of IDPs started last month. Hafiz Abdur Rauf, the chairman of FIF, while talking to Pakistan Today, said that his organisation did not have to face any red tape to carry out relief work in the area.
“We are rather coordinating with the government to work effectively”, he said.
He also said that his organisation was amongst the first ones to take up the relief work. Rauf said that FIF had also provided transportation facilities to a number of people to help them reach the camps in Bannu and was now busy in catering to the basic necessities of the displaced people.
“We have provided food items to 15,000 families and aim to reach out to 20,000 more families during Ramazan”, he said. He added his organisation has also treated “12,000 patients so far”.
When asked how FIF was able carry out relief efforts at such a scale, he replied “we have grass-root level presence in every district and we mobilise our members in the hour of need”. Rauf also added that a number people graciously contribute to fund the relief activities of FIF.
In some circles, it is feared that IDP camps are providing a recruitment opportunity to extremist organisations. Apprehensions exist that relief efforts are carried out by such organisations to appease and appeal to the vulnerable and displaced people. Certain banned outfits such as Jaish-e-Muhammad are also active in the area, according to some local newspapers.
In some circles, it is feared that IDP camps are providing a recruitment opportunity to extremist organisations. Apprehensions exist that relief efforts are carried out by such organisations to appease and appeal to the vulnerable and displaced people.
However, Abdur Rauf said that Falah-e-Insaaniyat Foundation is registered with the government as an NGO and its sole purpose is to work for the welfare of people. “Anyone can join us but we are not forcing anyone to do so”.
Government’s own efforts are proving highly insufficient in attending to the IDPs effectively. Since relief funds have been marred by allegations of corruption in the past, it was decided by the federal government to disburse cash using SIMs this time. Each family was supposed to get a fixed amount of money through a SIM. In this regard a deal was also signed between the government and a private cellular company last month.
However, the system malfunctioned as it developed some glitches and failed to disburse the cash to all families. Latest figures show that only 1,100 families benefitted from this mechanism. Now, as a significant number of people have left the camps to live own their own, it is highly necessary that they are assisted monetarily on an urgent basis.
The high number of children among IDPs is also an alarming indication of problems that the government might have to face in the future. The total number of registered children in IDPs is close to four hundred thousand. Thousands of them have been put out of schools due to the military operation.
These children, who were once terrified by the sounds of American drones, now have to wait for their meals in the hot weather, something they are not used to since they come from far colder areas. And since many of the children displaced in the face of the military operation in Swat in 2009 still remain out of school, the current operation has put the academic future of many children in danger again.
It is evident that a much bigger task awaits the federal government and local authorities upon completion of the operation. That task will be to ensure smooth and swift rehabilitation of these displaced people. In addition to carrying out infrastructural reconstruction on a large scale, well thought-out policies will also have to be devised to allow people of Waziristan back into their normal lifestyle.
Much of the problems that the IDPs are currently facing are an insult to their sacrifice. People of Waziristan left their homes and livelihoods behind to make this country a safer place for all of us. As much as it is required that their basic necessitates are fulfilled, it is of paramount importance that they are treated with the utmost respect and dignity. More than regaining the lost territory, it will be essential to win over the hearts of the people of Waziristan.