Almost 400,000 people, out of the more than 2 million who escaped Government-militant clashes in northwest Pakistan, have now returned to their homes, the top United Nations relief official in the country announced today.
Wolfgang Herbinger, the acting UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Pakistan said that more than 385,000 people have now returned to their homes in the past 10 days since authorities for the uprooted to return to some parts of Buner and Swat, among the areas hardest hit by the operations pitting Government forces against militants in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP).
With the onset of the monsoon season and the needs of the returnees remaining acute, “this is a critical time for the complex humanitarian situation in Pakistan,” Mr. Herbinger told reporters in the capital, Islamabad.
The Coordinator said that to mitigate the impact of the heavy rains, relief agencies are working to prevent outbreaks of water, sanitation and hygiene-related diseases in camps.
The vast majority of the nearly 2.3 million people who have escaped the violence are sheltering either in schools and other public buildings, with host families or in rental accommodations.
The pace and scale of returns in the near future will depend on the security situations in the areas to which internally displaced persons (IDPs) will be returning, Mr. Herbinger said, adding that stepped up efforts are crucial to provide assistance to the returnees so that they can re-establish their lives.
With more than 80 per cent of people in the conflict-torn areas relying on agriculture for the bulk of their livelihoods, “household incomes took a battering” due to the recent violence, said Richard Fuller, Senior Emergency Coordinator for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), addressing the same press conference.
Providing essential live-saving assistance, such as food aid, must be followed by aid in reducing dependence and resuming normal lives through timely support for the restoration of agriculture, he said.
It is estimated that two-thirds of food and cash crops may have been lost in some parts of NWFP during the clashes, one in three livestock animals having been lost across the area.
Early recovery efforts are centering on the concept of “building back better,” with the foundation being laid for long-term targets to ensure that people’s lives are better than they were before the violence broke out.