15 July 2009
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE BY EMERGENCY RELIEF COORDINATOR ON HIS RECENT MISSION TO PAKISTAN


Emphasizing that the internal displacement crisis in Pakistan had reached a critical stage, United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes today implored the international community to bolster aid to the more than 2 million people who had fled the conflict between Government forces and insurgents in the country’s North-West Frontier Province and Federally Administered Tribal Areas bordering Afghanistan.


Donors had committed 42 per cent of the $543 million United Nations appeal launched on 28 May to send the internally displaced population home, said John Holmes, who is also Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, at a Headquarters press conference.  However, that money would only cover food and other basic emergency needs for a few weeks.  Much more would be needed to sustain relief efforts through year’s end, particularly if the fighting intensified and led to massive outflows of people from southern Waziristan, home to 500,000 people, as was expected in the coming weeks.  “I’m repeating now my plea to the donors and the international community that we need continued, accelerated and increased support, including for the early recovery part of the process of reconstruction and re‑development,” he said.


Mr. Holmes, who wrapped up a four-day visit to the South Asian nation on 10 July, commended the Government of Pakistan and humanitarian agencies for acting swiftly and effectively to assist what was now the fourth largest crisis-induced internally displaced population in the world, with some 1.5 million uprooted from their homes since January.  For example, the Government had set up ATM machines which had issued cash assistance of up to 25,000 rupees each to some 90,000 families thus far, while the World Food Programme (WFP) had set up 40 food aid hubs outside the camps.


But the Emergency Relief Coordinator voiced a fear that international support would not be sustained, noting that the United Nations had received 60 per cent of the funds requested for food aid, but donations for other key areas -- such as emergency agriculture to replace lost crops, health care, shelter and emergency education -- were woefully inadequate, at 20 per cent or less.  About 90 per cent of the displaced where sheltering in schools or villages, where their numbers often exceeded those of the host population.  Some 250,000 in displacement camps were grappling with unbearable heat and the prospect of flooding during the monsoon season, beginning in a few weeks.


“The issue now is how fast and on what scale people will begin to return home,” he said, warning that the process could not be rushed and that basic security as well as power, water, law enforcement and administrative services must be in place beforehand.  In Bruner Province, which was in “reasonable shape”, half of the displaced population had returned, but the security situation in the Swat valley and other areas was fragile.  To ensure that people returned voluntarily, the United Nations had signed a framework agreement with the North-West Frontier provincial government, which set out the conditions and principles of return.


Asked whether the August deadline for the return of most internally displaced persons was realistic, Mr. Holmes described that target as “very ambitious”, saying it would likely take months to achieve.  The coming weeks were critical and the return rate would be influenced by whether friends and families had already arrived safely.


Regarding the complaint by the Provincial Relief Commissioner in Peshawar about the lack of coordination among relief agencies, and his call for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to set up a permanent coordination office there, he said OCHA had stepped up its Pakistan presence in the last couple of months, with an office of significant size in Islamabad.  It had a representative office in Peshawar, but its expansion in that city was constrained by security concerns, he said, recalling the June bombing of the Pearl Continental Hotel there, which had killed two United Nations personnel.


Concerning Pakistani support for efforts to evict the Taliban, he said that, according to humanitarian agencies and civil society representatives he had spoken with, the population was committed to the military operation and wanted to make sure it was a serious and long-term one.


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For information media • not an official record