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Fata operation puts children at risk

September 13, 2012


PESHAWAR, Sept 13: Protracted military operation in Khyber Agency and other parts of Fata may put thousands of children in a precarious situation as relief organisations, according to their representatives, are struggling to get funds to save around 400,000 displaced children from malnutrition and various deadly diseases.

Like displaced persons, donor agencies and international non-governmental organisations, too, are stated to be upset by the lingering military action in the volatile region, because there was no indication as to when the conflict will reach its logical end.

“Donors and relief bodies are very much concerned about the prolonged army action in Fata. We have been asking the relevant quarters at high level meetings that how long, these IDPs would stay in tents and with host families. But we didn’t receive clear answer so far,” said a representative of a donor agency, who is not authorised to speak to media. “But they (government officers) also may not know that when the operation in Fata will come to an end,” he said.

He warned that donors fatigue was in the offing which could affect relief activities in conflict-hit areas.

“Humanitarian bodies and donors are wasting resources on feeding IDPs. They want to focus on rehabilitation of IDPs and early recovery programmes in affected areas,” he said.

Senior officials dealing with relief and security affairs in Fata are also unaware of the conclusion of the combat, saying they did not know when these IDPs would return home.

“We don’t see return of the IDPs to their homes by May 2013,” said an officer, who is handling matters related with IDPs in Fata.

Security forces had launched operation in Orakzai Agency in March 2009 and in Khyber Agency in October 2009. For relief organisation, displacement of large number of children and women is a serious issue.

Unicef said in its report that a total of 387,000 children had been forcefully displaced from Fata due to military operations against non-state armed groups and sectarian violence.

It said more than 90 per cent IDPs were living with host communities and off-camps and that a total of 68,472 families had displaced from Khyber Agency.

Unicef programme specialist in Peshawar Dr Mohammad Rafiq said displaced children living with host communities were more exposed to multiple problems as compared with those who were residing in relief camps.

He said tent environment was hazardous for IDPs especially for children and women. “Tents are exposed to sunrays, which cause skin and other diseases,” he said.

“Every armed conflict has psycho-social impacts on displaced population particularly children,” said Dr Rafiq and the present situation of displaced children also raised concerns about their vulnerability to various physical and social problems.Unicef requires $35.2 million for its operation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata for current year, but it received only $9.5 million so far facing an overall 73 per cent funding gap. The UN agency said severe funding shortage was hampering response efforts to cover the emergency humanitarian needs of IDPs.

Haji Gulbat Khan, an elder of IDPs camp in Jalozai said children particularly orphan had developed habit of bagging. The tribesman who was forced to leave Khyber Agency has been living in the camp since 2009.

“One can see displaced children on streets in Peshawar, Pabbi and Nowshera,” he said. Save the Children, an international NGO in its fresh report said the organisation had reached 239,000 children displaced from Khyber Agency after military started operation to clear area from militant outfits in November 2011. The organisation also asked for $17 million to deliver initial response strategy.

Save the Children has established 12 child protection centers to provide safe and healthy environment to displace children while food and non food items are also provided in and off camps. The organisation has planned to reach 250,000 children displaced from Khyber Agency.

Mohammad Farouk, media and communication coordinator of Save the Children, said displaced children had health, food and nutrition problems. “Immediate issue is that these displaced children and their families should go back to their homes as soon as possible,” he said.

He said his organisation had set up temporary learning places in camps, provided free books and facilitated them to get admission in government-run schools.

Due to the gradual onset of the crisis, the organisation said it had attracted little international attention, making it difficult for humanitarian partners to obtain funding needed to address it. The humanitarian needs of IDPs were largely unmet, as they were faced with increasing prices of basic commodities and cramped living conditions, it said.