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Surge of displacement in Pakistan continues

Only a few days have passed since we last checked in on the growing crisis in Pakistan, but those few days have been enough time to change thousands of lives. In the month of May alone, more people have been displaced in Pakistan than were displaced over 3 years in Darfur.

Since August of last year, conflict between pro-Taliban militants and Pakistan’s government forces has seethed in Pakistan’s northwest frontier region. Over the last month, as fighting has intensified, the number of people who have fled their homes has swollen to 2.4 million. That’s the single largest movement of people in Pakistan since the partition that created the country.

Most frightening of all, it’s estimated that 65% of the displaced are children.


Pakistan (May 29, 2009), a displaced girl waits with adults for food during a distribution in the Chota Lahore camp in Swabi District in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). The camp is one of the many created in the past few weeks to accommodate people fleeing the current conflict.
© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-0565/Marta Ramoneda
Pakistan (May 29, 2009), a displaced girl waits with adults for food during a distribution in the Chota Lahore camp in Swabi District in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). The camp is one of the many created in the past few weeks to accommodate people fleeing the current conflict.

UNICEF is doing its best to blunt the impact of the crisis for these children, but because of the quick timeline and incredible numbers of people, some real challenges exist. Many of the displaced have chosen to stay with friends or relatives, or rent space in host communities, which means distributing resources and keeping track of movement is made a bit harder. It’s estimated that of all the children displaced, only 25% are actually in camps, where agencies like UNICEF can be sure that they are fed, protected from exploitation, and kept healthy in the midst of all the chaos.

Only a few days have passed since we last checked in on the growing crisis in Pakistan, but those few days have been enough time to change thousands of lives. In the month of May alone, more people have been displaced in Pakistan than were displaced over 3 years in Darfur.

Since August of last year, conflict between pro-Taliban militants and Pakistan’s government forces has seethed in Pakistan’s northwest frontier region. Over the last month, as fighting has intensified, the number of people who have fled their homes has swollen to 2.4 million. That’s the single largest movement of people in Pakistan since the partition that created the country.

Most frightening of all, it’s estimated that 65% of the displaced are children.


Pakistan (May 29, 2009), a displaced girl waits with adults for food during a distribution in the Chota Lahore camp in Swabi District in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). The camp is one of the many created in the past few weeks to accommodate people fleeing the current conflict.
© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-0565/Marta Ramoneda
Pakistan (May 29, 2009), a displaced girl waits with adults for food during a distribution in the Chota Lahore camp in Swabi District in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). The camp is one of the many created in the past few weeks to accommodate people fleeing the current conflict.

UNICEF is doing its best to blunt the impact of the crisis for these children, but because of the quick timeline and incredible numbers of people, some real challenges exist. Many of the displaced have chosen to stay with friends or relatives, or rent space in host communities, which means distributing resources and keeping track of movement is made a bit harder. It’s estimated that of all the children displaced, only 25% are actually in camps, where agencies like UNICEF can be sure that they are fed, protected from exploitation, and kept healthy in the midst of all the chaos.

For those Pakistani children who UNICEF has been able to reach during the crisis, some amazing work has been done. Over 37,000 have been vaccinated against measles, and 15,000 have been vaccinated against polio (which is especially important, given that Pakistan is one of only four countries in the world where polio is still endemic). Malnutrition for the most part has been staved off, 25 primary schools have been set up in 14 camps, and over 1,100 children separated from their families during the migration have been identified and helped by staffers.


Displaced children crowd an ice truck during a distribution in the Swabi Camp in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). Nearly 5,000 people are living in the UNICEF-supported camp.
© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-0548/Marta Ramoneda
Displaced children crowd an ice truck during a distribution in the Swabi Camp in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). Nearly 5,000 people are living in the UNICEF-supported camp.

Even still, resources are stretched very thin. Only about 20% of the children in camps have access to much needed psychosocial resources, like child-friendly spaces, where they can deal with the trauma they’ve endured. 273 schools have had to be converted to shelters, and overall, 516,000 displaced school-aged children still lack access to basic education.

Worst of all, the surge of displacement doesn’t seem to be letting up. The UN High Commission on Refugees, which keeps track of the displaced, estimates that it’s registering 120,000 new people every day. And, it looks like the Pakistani armed forces are going to be spreading their efforts into even more regions, which guarantees that there will be more displaced people.

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