It is chaos all around with hundreds of hungry tribesmen, including children, queuing up for food and other relief goods at the internally displaced persons (IDPs) camp in Bannu. Thousand of weary tribal people from North Waziristan are pouring in daily to further complicate the situation at the badly-managed camp. It was really painful for the valiant Pashtuns to struggle hard and fight for a single meal.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) threat to tribesmen to stay away from the government-run camps and lack of basic facilities including water and electricity at camps have forced most of the fleeing families from North Waziristan Agency to live with their relatives or on rent in the settled southern districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Both the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) and Fata Disaster Management Authority (FDMA), the two government bodies established for dealing with the issue of IDPs, were facing great difficulties in accommodating and facilitating the fleeing tribesmen. The governments and local administration were again accused by the IDPs of leaving them in great trouble at this critical time.
In the case of Bara IDPs from Khyber Agency, the then Peshawar High Court (PHC) Chief Justice and now judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Dost Muhammad Khan, had taken a suo motu notice and ensured provision of basic facilities including potable water, electricity and electric fans to the IDPs at Jalozai IDPs Camp, situated at Nowshera district through the PDMA and FDMA. But the case of IDPs from North Waziristan is different. First, the IDP camp was set up in FR Bannu, a tribal region and, second the Supreme Court of Pakistan has restrained the chief justices of high courts from taking suo motu notices.
While the issue of Khyber Agency IDPs is still unresolved, the large influx of IDPs from North Waziristan as a result of military operation Zarb-e-Azb has complicated the situation further.
Apart from the scarcity of basic facilities in the IDPs camp, the fleeing families were facing great difficulties due to non-availability of transport. Thousands of people, including children and women, abandoned their homes barefoot to reach some safe places.
Muhammad Iqbal Dawar, who reached Bannu on foot from Mir Ali subdivision of North Waziristan, said he immediately left his home as the authorities in Mir Ali directed the people to leave the area after relaxing the curfew for a short period even though no transport was available at that time.
"I reached Saidgi checkpost on foot after going through a lot of hardships," Iqbal Dawar recalled, adding that nobody would want to stay in the camp in the scorching heat due to lack of basic facilities, including drinking water, electricity, food, medicines and tents.
He said transporters were fleecing the poor people as truckers were demanding Rs60,000-70,000 instead of Rs10,000 fares from the affectees to shift their belongings to Bannu while the owners of houses in Bannu were demanding Rs30,000 instead of Rs5,000 as rent. "The government has failed to provide the required facilities to the IDPs," he complained.
Another IDP from Mir Ali, a sub-division of North Waziristan, Muhammad Niaz, said during relaxation in curfew, the Bannu-Miran Shah road was flooded by the IDPs with all kinds of vehicles including trucks, tractors, pickups, motorcycles and other vehicles. However, he said due to shortage of vehicles and high fares, majority of people remained stranded in their houses as the children and women could not walk up to 15 to 20 hours in the scorching heat. He said the poor people were evacuating their family members on donkey-carts from the operation-hit areas.
On the other hand, many local people were found busy serving the affectees with cold drinks, meals and other food items at various points in Bannu city. "We are thankful to the people of Bannu for serving the IDPs like brothers and sisters," said Jehanzeb Mehsud, a resident of Miran Shah. He said lack of basic facilities have forced him to leave the IDP camp in the Bannu district.
The administration of Bannu division has been trying rather unsuccessfully to convince the IDPs, who fled the North Waziristan operation that began on June 15, to shift to the camp in Bakkakhel. If the authorities had learnt their lesson, they should have known that the relief camp set up for the affectees of the South Waziristan operation in 2009 at Narsaz area in Tank district is still deserted as the tribal people refused to live in the camp.
On Tuesday, hundreds of hungry IDPs blocked the main road from FR Bannu to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to protest against the government over food shortage. The police and troops fired warning shots to break up the protest.
An official of the administration of Tank district said that the IDPs from the South Waziristan didn’t want to stay in the Narsaz camp due to lack of facilities. The same was the case at the Bakkakhel camp.
He said that the number of the displaced Mehsud tribespeople from Ladha and Sarwakai sub-divisions following the South Waziristan operation codenamed ‘Rah-e-Nijaat’ was over 36,000. He said they were still living in Gomal, Jandola and Narsaz areas rather than in the camp. "About 6,000 of these IDPs returned home after the end of the operation. Others left for Dera Ismail Khan and other areas instead of staying in the relief camp in Narsaz," he added.
The Director General FDMA, Arshad Khan, told TNS that the government had so far registered over 435,429 internally displaced people due to the ongoing operation in North Waziristan with the help of the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA). He said that as per the official data available on Monday, the government had registered 35,381 families including 114,596 males, 137,301 females and 183,532 children. So far, a total of 34,625 families have crossed over from North Waziristan and have been registered in Bannu. About 1100 families have arrived in DI Khan and 480 in Lakki Marwat district. However, he said over 200,000 more stranded IDPs are expected to arrive in the camp.
The DG FDMA said relief camps were immediately established with the onset of the operation. The main IDPs camp has been established in Bakkakhel, district Bannu. Unfortunately, majority of the displaced people opted to live with their relatives and host communities as per their traditions and past practice.
The FDMA official told TNS that most of the displaced families are living with their relatives in the settled areas of Bannu, Tank, Lakki Marwat, Hangu and Dera Ismail Khan. "Efforts are afoot to expand the camps and provide all the basic facilities to those IDPs who wish to return to the camp. A field hospital is also being set up jointly by the army and civil administration. The affected population is being provided food and cash relief." He said the NDMA has handed over additional 2,000 tents to the FDMA for further distribution among the IDPs.
The DG FDMA said, "Each displaced family is being paid Rs12,000 at the time of registration. Mobile health units and five ambulances have been put on red alert to provide healthcare facilities to the displaced population," he said, adding that so far, around 64,000 children have been vaccinated against polio.
The WFP has also established a food point in the area with the approval of the federal government. A formation of the Pakistan army has been tasked exclusively to support the civil administration to ensure smooth and efficient execution of this onerous task of supporting the IDPs. The government, the armed forces and all the concerned departments and agencies as well as humanitarian partners are putting in their efforts to mitigate the sufferings of displaced people.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has announced that the IDPs would also be housed in the government schools in the southern districts.
According to a United Nations report as many as 74 per cent of more than 455,000 internally displaced persons are women and children. As of Wednesday, the FDMA reported registering over 455,000 IDPs (36,700 families). This number, according to the UN, far exceeds the initial estimates of 250,000 IDPs from the NWA.
"The displacements appear to have ceased from the designated exit points from NWA, as the authorities re-imposed a curfew following a five-day relaxation that allowed over 350,000 people to move out of the conflict zone. However, further displacements are expected as the security operation is extended to other parts of the Agency," states the first situation report on NWA displacements issued by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Pakistan.
It says the majority of the IDPs are women (32 per cent) and children (42 per cent). The displaced people, the report states, are facing hardships due to security restrictions, lack of transport and inflated fares.
PTI Chairman Imran Khan, during his recent visit to the IDPs camp in Bannu, had asked the federal government to immediately release Rs6billion to the KP government for the IDPs. He said the PML-N government should have informed the KP government before starting the operation in North Waziristan so that the provincial government could have made proper arrangements for the IDPs.