Pakistanis displaced by fighting in “dire need”

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – Authorities in northwest Pakistan are urgently seeking millions of dollars to help up to 300,000 people who have fled from fighting between government forces and militants.

The displaced people are one more problem for a coalition government riven by disputes and grappling with mounting militant attacks and a sagging economy.

Pakistani troops launched an offensive against militants in the Bajaur region on the Afghan border early this month. The region is a haven for al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

More than 200 people, most militants but including some civilians, have been killed in the fighting in which fighter jets and attack helicopters have pounded militant hideouts in the mountains.

Security forces issued warnings for people to leave before they began the offensive, and many heeded it, pouring out of the region packed in pick-up trucks or on foot.

Most of the displaced went to stay with friends or family in safer parts of the northwest but a senior provincial official said many were now turning up at relief centers set up in schools and at tent camps looking for help.

“It’s a serious problem because as of now roughly 300,000 people have come out of Bajaur and many of them who were living with relatives are now shifting to camps,” provincial relief commissioner Jameel Amjad told Reuters on Monday.

The provincial government urgently needed $13 million to help the displaced, he said.

“Human life is so sacrosanct. It has to be given value. If we don’t get money obviously things will deteriorate,” Amjad said.

The federal government, however, has not issued an appeal for funds or for help from the United Nations, saying the situation was under control.

“ENOUGH IS ENOUGH”

Although it had not been asked for help, the United Nations was assisting in various ways including food distribution and water and sanitation, a U.N. official said.

According to U.N. figures, about 250,000 people had been displaced as of Sunday, with the number rising daily. About 60 percent of the total were staying with friends or family and 40 percent in camps.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was planning help for about 64,000 people who had been unable to find lodging, about 14,000 of whom had fled across the border to the Afghan province of Kunar.

“There’s a dire need for assistance,” said ICRC spokeswoman

Sitara Jabeen.

With no end of the fighting in sight, the mood was grim at a relief camp near the city of Peshawar, set up in a dusty field beside a road.

“We came here to save our lives but we still have problems. We don’t get enough food. Some of my children are eating scraps,” said Fazal-e-Wali, 40, who came to the camp from Bajaur with his family.

Villagers longed for peace and expressed exasperation with the militants.

“Enough is enough. We don’t want our children to die like that. We want peace, either through talks or military operations,” said Khaisat Gul, sitting in a tent with his seven children.

“They should have finished off these miscreants long ago, we’ve been facing such hardships because of them,” said Saleh Mohammad, who said his five-year-old son had gone missing while the family fled from Bajaur.

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