The significance of the mass exodus of nearly a million people (Internally displaced persons or IDPs) from North Waziristan in the wake of the military operation, without any visible plan for their relief and rehabilitation, seems to have escaped the policy makers. Neither the Federal or Provincial governments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPk), nor the Army with massive resources at its disposal, was ready for the mass exodus. There was a lack of any prior plans and preparations to manage this crisis in a well-coordinated manner.
Even though the FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) and the Army have been attempting to bring their efforts in lockstep, there is no central coordination mechanism and these efforts remain fragmented. The FDMA remains un-prepared, scantily staffed and resource-starved, unable to take the responsibility of managing a relief exercise of this magnitude. The Army is also doing this activity in its own manner, but, obviously, is more focused towards the operation itself.
The IDP situation in the current case is an unusual one. The IDPs are not in centrally established camps where they can be easily reached. The only camp that has been set up is at Bakkakhel, lacks basic facilities and houses just 28 families i.
That in itself puts a question mark on the seriousness of the authorities to deal with this challenge. A majority of the IDPs have been accommodated by host families, or housed in various empty buildings, schools, colleges, go-downs, deserted/destroyed structures, hujras, etc. spread over most of southern KPk. Some of the reasons for this are the lack of basic facilities in the camp, extremely harsh weather conditions and cultural issues. Bannu, a city of one million, is now hosting approximately half a million additional people. Such a situation makes the relief effort extremely difficult and demand innovative approaches since the traditional approaches designed to reach IDPs who are centrally located, will not work.
Out of approximately 800,000 IDPs, roughly 60-65% are in Bannu, 20-25% in surrounding districts like FR Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Karak, Kohat, and the neighboring Kurram agency etc. and 10% are spread out in different parts of KPk province. Some families have also moved out to Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Karachi ii. Registration, a gargantuan task given the 0.8 million people needed to be registered, has now been started in Bannu, however, with many of the IDPs scattered at different places, registration has become a very complex issue. The authorities are reluctant to start registration in other cities for risk of mass movement towards settled areas which the government does not desire. At the same time, the IDPs scattered all over cannot get the relief as they are not duly registered or are located far away from the relief distribution points. Another bottleneck is the prerequisite of CNIC card for registration. Due to remoteness, decades’ long conflict and cultural reasons, many people, particularly women, have no CNICs.
There are mainly three relief distribution hubs for distribution of rations, which are located at Bannu, Lakki Marwat and D.I. Khan where IDPs have to come to get relief. Some people find prohibitive the cost of traveling from far-off areas to get a few ration items. Others are unaware of the procedures, locations and the terms and conditions resulting in undue rush and congestion.
According to some reports, some 74% of the IDPS are women and children who are the most vulnerable iii. Special focus on the nutrition needs of the children is of utmost importance. Medical camps and availability of lady doctors is another basic need, as many women who need medical help are living in communities where reaching out to them is very difficult. Mass awareness through innovative means is need of the day. FM radio and other local media channels can be effectively used to keep the communities informed and give awareness about important issues like registration, medical camps, how to tackle different community problems, how to avoid common diseases beside ways to protect the environment, and so forth.
It is extremely difficult to provide community utilities such as water, electricity, health and sanitation facilities in the current situation to the IDPs. The large number of IDPs has put serious strain on community facilities in Bannu and surrounding towns. These towns and villages need to be helped with additional water filtration plants, community washrooms, improving water and sanitation, provision of electricity and building of access roads. With little possibility of the IDPs moving back in the near future, there is a dire need to build up the capacities of towns like Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Sarai Norang, Domel, and other large villages hosting the IDPs.
Another serious issue is the future of the children and youth. Most of the schools and college buildings in the host areas have been occupied by IDPs. Soon after the summer break, these communities will have to face another displacement. This will affect the education of IDP children, as well as host communities. The need is to build proper structures for their shelter. Simultaneously, capacity of local schools needs be enhanced and necessary measures taken for all the school-going children. There is a fear that most of these youth landing in madrassas, or with jihadi outfits, if no alternative mechanisms to engage them are initiated in time. Similarly, temporary vocational schools and training centers could also be introduced for the women and young girls.
The immediate focus of the state institutions should be towards relief and rehabilitation. If this is mismanaged – as, it appears, is happening – it might in fact create more problems, and may even potentially change the nature of this whole conflict, with emergence of more violent, perhaps even anti-state, groups on account of pent-up frustration.
i. Telephone Conversation with Director FDMA at Bannu, Mr Farman. dated 4 July, 2014. Also confirmed from IDPs and volunteers on ground.
ii. North Waziristan Update, dated 6 July 2014, Available at FDMA website. Can be accessed , http://fdma.gov.pk/index.php/news-a-events/144-north-waziristan-updates
iii. Ibid. Also See “Global Peace Pioneers’ IDPs Relief and Rehabilitation Fund” Available at, http://globalpeace.net.pk/files/File/Flash%20Appeal%20for%20Rehabilitation%20and%20Support%20for%20IDPs%20of%20North%20Waziristan%20-%20GPP.pdf