Internally displaced tribal civilians, fleeing from military operations in North Waziristan, push their wheelbarrows loaded with relief supplies at the World Food Programme (WFP) distribution point in Bannu.—AFP photo
BANNU: People displaced from North Waziristan Agency were standing in a long queue outside Bannu’s sports complex where UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) has set up a camp for food distribution.
They were waiting in sizzling heat since early morning for their turn to get food.
Soldiers, with heads covered in scarves and guns slinging from shoulders, would occasionally tap the ground with sticks to maintain discipline. A strong and foul odour coming from the surroundings polluted the air along the main road.
Thousands of people who came from Lakki Marwat and Karak districts and parts of Bannu had assembled outside the complex. Police resorted to firing in the air and baton-charge early in the morning to restore order.
With sweat dripping from his brow, Noorul Amin, a grey-haired Ahmadzai Wazir, was also waiting to receive food. His family took shelter with a host family in Serai Nowrung, a town in Lakki Marwat district about 18km south of Bannu.
He had been coming to the complex for three days to get food. He blamed the government for what he said was the forced evacuation from the agency and maltreatment at the hands of soldiers and police.
“By God, I will hold (Prime Minister) Nawaz Sharif and (Army Chief) Raheel Sharif by the collar on the Day of Judgment. First, we were forced to leave our homes and then we are humiliated here for a small quantity of food,” he said. “We are not even treated like animals.”
According to the Fata Disaster Management Authority, there is only one food distribution point for over 36,800 families.
The food distribution process is extremely slow. People come early in the morning and stand in queue for the whole day. The food basket provided to each family contains 80kg of wheat flour, 4kg pulses, 30 packets of high-energy biscuits, 1kg salt and five litres of cooking oil.
The WFP said that since the start of food distribution work on June 22, it has provided rations for 15 days to over 4,600 families. Like previous disasters, troops are overseeing all the activities, including distribution of food.
An official said that on an average 1,800 families received handouts daily. Three more distribution points are proposed to be set up next month to streamline the relief operation.
The military operation in the agency was on the cards since long, but the way people were evacuated and the mismanagement at the distribution point showed lack of coordination between law enforcement and disaster management authorities.
Also exposed was the lack of preparedness on the part of agencies dealing with the disaster.
Like in the past, disaster management bodies are depending on security forces and troops are controlling everything from evacuation of civilians to distribution of relief items. Officials of the disaster management bodies have restricted themselves to file work. Workers of the NGOs which are partners of the UN agency are involved in distributing the food items.
Falah-i-Insaniat, a subsidiary of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, and Jamaat-i-Islami’s Al Khidmat Foundation have been offering water to people in the distribution point’s waiting area. They have also kept ambulances on standby and set up donation camps.
Workers of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam have also set up a small donation camp near the sports complex.
The PML-N has put up banners in the garrison area of the city to express solidarity with the army. A portrait of Gen Sharif has overshadowed smaller pictures of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Mahtab Ahmed Khan on a banner which says: “We salute Pak Army.”
After reaching Bannu, displaced families have started heading to others areas of the country. The trend has worried officials dealing with security-related matters.
Officials said that over 450,000 people had been registered and the figure might surpass 600,000 if evacuation was not stopped from other areas of North Waziristan. Local people said that evacuation had been completed only from two sub-divisions – Mirali and Miramshah.
They said that Razmak sub-division, comprising Sham, Dusali, Razmak, Madakhel and parts of Spin Wam and Shawa, has not been vacated so far. Because the focus of the army operation is Mirali and Miramshah, people from there have been evacuated.
Madakhel, adjacent to the Afghan border, is said to be under the influence of Hafiz Gul Bahadur who is emir of Shura Mujahideen of North Waziristan Agency and signatory to a 2006 peace agreement with the government.
Exemption of Madakhel and other areas from the evacuation process has raised hopes among the displaced people that they would be able to go back to their abodes soon.
Published in Dawn, June 27th, 2014