by John Stephens, Mercy Corps, May 27, 2009
The news coming in is not good. Thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) are still pouring out of parts of northern Pakistan where fighting is continuing between Taliban militants and military forces.
The fighting still seems to be catching headlines around the world, but the humanitarian situation is slowly fading from the spotlight. The situation for IDPs is not getting better. Of the now estimated 2.3 million IDPs, perhaps only 20 percent are residing in official camps set up by the government and mostly run by various UN agencies. Temperatures are extreme and tempers are wearing thin for IDPs stuck in these camps with few services available to them.
The other 80 percent of IDPs have flooded into towns and villages, some living with friends and relatives, others crammed into vacant school buildings. For those willing to take in IDPs into their homes, they may host as many as 20 additional people in a single-family dwelling and their reserves of extra food are dwindling.
In the schools, the situation is dire. Hundreds of families crammed into small classrooms have no privacy and the sanitary conditions are horrible as the toilets were not built to deal with a tenfold increase in people.
As the IDP crisis continues, the needs of people change. A new statistic just came in that revealed that there are around 70,000 pregnant women who will give birth in the next two months, meaning there is a critical risk being posed to them and their newborns if proper medical facilities are not set up.
Right now the extreme heat is causing many issues — but in one week the early monsoons will arrive and perhaps change all that. However, In place of heat we may find flooding, muddy camps and a new set of hygiene challenges.
Mercy Corps staff are in affected communities talking to IDPs daily and constantly recalibrating our response to fit their most pressing needs. Once the fighting is over, these 2.3 million people will return to their homes. Many will find destroyed property and ruined crops, and Mercy Corps will be there to assist them in their time of need.