A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
It is the world’s biggest and fastest human displacement in over a decade. The offensive launched by the Pakistan army against armed militants in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) at the end of April 2009 has resulted in a massive exodus requiring an enormous humanitarian response. In May at least two million women, men, and children fled their homes. In late May, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) was registering 126,000 newly displaced people per day. The total figure of internally displaced persons (IDPs) is likely to rise as military operations extend into other areas.
Hundreds of thousands have been trapped in embattled areas by clashes and curfews, suffering severe shortages of food, water, electricity, and medicines for weeks. Livelihoods have been severely damaged. Most IDP families rely on agriculture for their incomes and the conflict erupted just as the vital wheat harvest season was beginning.
Addressing the relief and recovery needs of these IDPs is a massive challenge for the Pakistani government, the international community, and aid actors. Despite significant efforts by the Pakistani authorities and the humanitarian community, however, the response has been problematic. Much more needs to be done to meet immediate needs and support a strong recovery that lays the foundations for sustainable peace and stability.
Key recommendations from this paper:
To the international community:
- Respond more quickly and substantially with funds for the Pakistani government, the UN appeal, and aid agencies as appropriate to support timely and effective response, recovery and reconstruction activities.
- Support democratic civilian political leadership to meet the needs of conflict affected communities.
- Seize and maximize opportunities to build sustainable peace. The recovery effort should spearhead wider social, economic and political development to address the root causes of instability and conflict.
To the government of Pakistan:
- Ensure that humanitarian assistance provided to IDPs is timely, appropriate, sufficient, and well targeted, through improved coordination and accountability.
- Ensure safe unhindered humanitarian access to civilians in conflicted-affected areas and manage curfew restrictions in ways that allow stranded civilians to evacuate to safer areas.
- Develop a plan to monitor and assist IDPs and host communities as part of the overall response and recovery strategy.
- Devise a robust long-term strategy for recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction of conflict-affected areas, led by strengthened local civilian government actors with meaningful participation by affected communities and local civil society organizations.
- Ensure that right of freedom of movement, right of choice and guiding principles on internal displacement are respected and practised.
- Ensure that the distinct needs of vulnerable groups, including children and women, are respected and mainstreamed in relief, recovery and reconstruction plans.