Agencies Respond To Crisis In Pakistan

June 01, 2009

By Linda Bloom*

May 20, 2009 | NEW YORK (UMNS)


Marvin Parvez is afraid that what has become one of the largest displacements of people in Pakistani history could grow into an even larger crisis.


Parvez, a Methodist from Pakistan who is the director of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Program of Church World Service, believes the number of displaced persons from the Swat Valley in the Northwest Frontier Province could double if the fighting between the Taliban and Pakistani military spreads into new districts.


The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 1.5 million people have been displaced in northwest Pakistan recently, in addition to 500,000 who had fled the area since 2008.


Visiting Church World Service headquarters in New York, Parvez appealed for support as the agency tries to assist 1,000 of the displaced families. "Our concern continues to be the welfare of people, their security and the whole displacement crisis," he told United Methodist News Service in a May 20 interview.


The United Methodist Committee on Relief has allocated $110,000 to Church World Service and Muslim Aid, another partner in the region, for their work with the displaced. The relief agency also is in contact with the Church of Pakistan about needs for assistance. Muslim Aid is working in a different area than Church World Service, according to UMCOR, and is assisting displaced people by providing tents, mattresses and other necessities.


On average, about 100,000 people have been registered daily at 89 registration points established in Mardan, Swabi, Nowshera, Peshawar, Kohat and Charsaddda districts of the province, according to Ron Redmond, a U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees spokesperson.


Food and shelter


Church World Service already has teams in Mardan, Swabi and Mansehra, Parvez reported.
In addition to the families currently being helped with food and shelter, "as our support grows from partner churches and denominations ...we hope to extend services like health care, water and sanitation."


Locally, Church World Service is working with the Sungi Development Foundation and Civil Society Human and Institutional Development Program in distributing 300 food packages suitable for a family of five and 230 shelter kits. Through funding of its appeal, the agency will buy more family-sized tents and monthly food packages of lentils, oil, water, tea, sugar, rice and flour, as well as provide health and hygiene facilities.


Many of the displaced have few possessions. Church World Service staff reported that in the Swabi displacement camp, "at least 250 children were barefoot and had walked with their parents the long distances. Children approached the team requesting shoes." The team also witnessed a desperate need for safe drinking water, particularly due to the extreme heat.


Another issue hampering assistance is that only about a third of the internally displaced persons are in camps. The remainder are staying with relatives or host families. "Their plight is really not very visible," Parvez explained. "We are trying to reach out to them."


Difficult terrain


Parvez, who expects to visit the region on June 2, expressed concern about both the short- and long-term living conditions of the displaced civilians. The camps often have poor water and sanitation facilities, increasing the chances of a cholera epidemic, and the region itself is rugged. "This is very difficult terrain, this is mountainous area," he said. "The harsh winters are unbearable."


Living as a displaced person is particularly hard for vulnerable populations. "The women, to begin with, are marginalized in our society," he pointed out. "In a crisis or disaster, they are further marginalized."


On May 19, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced a $110 million aid package for displaced persons in Pakistan, most of which will be channeled through the Agency for International Development, or USAID. Clinton also took the unusual step of asking Americans to make $5 pledges to Swat Valley civilians by sending a text on their cellphones.


Parvez, who already had been contacted by several individual United Methodist congregations, is hoping the denomination will respond to the humanitarian crisis in Pakistan, as well as suffering in other parts of South Asia. "Even in these very difficult global economic times, I think people are digging deeper into their pockets," he said.


United Methodists donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to assist survivors of Pakistan's 2005 earthquake, working through a number of agencies, including Church World Service, International Blue Crescent and the Church's Auxiliary for Social Action.


The United Methodist relief agency is seeking donations for the initial efforts in what will be a long-term relief and recovery effort in Pakistan. Checks can be marked for "UMCOR Advance #982450, Pakistan" and placed in church offering plates or sent to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, N.Y. 10087-9068. Credit card donations can be made by phone at 800.554.8583 or online at http://secure.gbgm-umc.org/donations/advance/index.cfm.


*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.