Lack of assistance angers returning Bajaur IDPs

PESHAWAR, 27 June 2010 (IRIN) - Thousands of people displaced by conflict in Bajaur Agency, one of seven tribal territories on the Pakistani-Afghan border, have returned to find damaged homes, limited services, sporadic fighting and little assistance from the government or UN agencies.

“The situation there [in Bajaur] is grim. There are shortages of food, prices fluctuate and medicines are often not available. I have come here [Peshawar] to buy some painkillers prescribed for my mother who has arthritis and a few other items so we can set up home again,” Wali Khan Uthmankhel, 40, said.

Fighting between the army and militants had forced his seven-member family to leave their home in Khar, the principle town in Bajaur Agency, a year ago and find shelter in Peshawar, capital of Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa province. Like thousands of other internally displaced persons (IDPs), they returned to Khar in the past few weeks following announcements from provincial authorities and the military that most areas of Bajaur had been cleared of militants.

The news led to the closure of two IDP camps in Lower Dir district in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa and more than 4,000 IDPs returning from there, according to a 25 June update by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

But many returnees are not happy with conditions in Bajaur.

“Our home has been badly damaged. We don’t have money to repair it so we are basically living in the open. Our animals have vanished and my youngest son, Saad Musa, who is five, has severe diarrhoea but there are no doctors around,” Zahira Bibi, 30, told IRIN by phone from her village near Khar.

“Severe cash crunch”

The OCHA update said a funding crunch was limiting aid agencies’ ability to deliver assistance in some areas.

“The Pakistan Humanitarian Response Plan (PHRP) 2010 is funded at US$180.04 million (34 percent) of the required $537 million for six months,” it said. “The severe cash crunch means that only one of the five food assistance projects WFP [the World Food Programme] submitted under the PHRP has received funding.”

The update also said the health cluster had received only 17 percent, $12 million, of the $73 million it needed. “This threatens the cluster’s ability to provide services in several districts in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa and FATA.”

An administrative official in Khar, who asked not to be named, told IRIN that very little effort had gone into rebuilding in the area. “We have no instructions about this and people are frustrated because they face such tough conditions after suffering months of displacement,” he said.

Former IDP Uthmankhel said it was not fair that those displaced from Swat, a conflict-affected district in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa province, had received much more help then they had. “We don’t understand why we have been neglected and treated like step-children. We don’t hold any ill-will towards the people of Swat, but we deserve the same treatment,” he said.

Continued fighting in Bajuar has added to the difficulties faced by returning IDPs.

“There have been warnings from the militants to local people not to accept government jobs or to cooperate with the administration,” said Uthmankhel.