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news | June 15, 2009 | Pakistan | Emergency

Responding to the emergency

REUTERS - Adrees Latif - courtesy

Following the intensification of fighting in Northern Pakistan, populations are facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, which is however poorly covered by mass media. Around 2 million of people have been displaced and have found refuge in camps or informal shelters since the beginning of the crisis in April 2009. Building from its valuable experience in the region, ACTED has reacted immediately to the situation and has launched emergency programmes to help the most vulnerable populations.

In August 2008, 500,000 people fled their home after new fighting in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in North West Pakistan. Nine months later, a new Pakistani army offensive against Taliban militants has triggered an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. Since late April, more than 2.5 million people, including children, women, and elderly, sought to flee the fighting and found refuge in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The complexity of the situation makes difficult any prognosis but new population displacements are not to exclude. The evolution of the situation worries the international community and humanitarian aid agencies while fighting continues and the number of IDPs keeps increasing every day, jeopardizing their return.

To address the crisis, humanitarian aid agencies, including ACTED, have launched several emergency programmes aiming at tackling the most pressing needs in terms of food and non-food items, clean water, shelters and sanitary infrastructures. They seek to provide quick relief to displaced people in camps but also to the most vulnerable populations that took refuge in informal resettlements. 80% of IDPs are either accomodated by relatives, or live in schools, mosques, or any available shelter. Living conditions are extremely precarious and it is not rare to see 5 families (approximately 30 people) living together in the same room. IDPs are highly dependent upon humanitarian aid.

ACTED in Pakistan

Having been present in the region for 15 years, ACTED could quickly launch emergency programmes. The NGO intervened in Northern Pakistan after the earthquake that devastated the North West Frontier Province, Azad Jammu and Kashmir in 2005. ACTED focused first on emergency operations before launching several rehabilitation and rural development programmes. Between 2006 and 2008, ACTED implemented several projects for infrastructure rehabilitation, vocational training, cash for work activities (CFW), seismically safe construction, improvement of primary health services, sensitization and community-based structures at the village level. Thanks to its long time presence in Pakistan, ACTED could address two simultaneous crises in August 2008: flooding in Rajanpur district (Panjab district) and displacement-induced humanitarian crisis following the military actions led by the Pakistani army in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

ACTED’s response to the actual crisis

To respond quickly to the needs of the most vulnerable IDPs, ACTED reacted from the very beginning of the crisis through the organization and conduct of field assessments so as to evaluate precisely the populations’ most pressing needs.
The experience of ACTED staff, present at the population’s side in the region since last summer, enabled the NGO to react even more effectively to the current crisis. Given the unexpected spread of fighting to Dir and Swat valleys, refugee camps were not ready to accommodate such a massive influx of IDPs.  Consequently, ACTED decided not only to work to improve the living conditions in temporary camps but also to engage in their logistic management. However, acknowledging the fact that over 80% of displaced persons are currently living in public buildings and host families where they hardly receive any kind of support, ACTED decided to dedicate most of its resources to support these populations. ACTED’s knowledge of the field and rural populations of Northern Pakistan constitutes valuable assets to respond as thoroughly as possible to the current humanitarian crisis.

After launching an emergency food relief for 10,000 displaced families, ACTED prioritizes large-scale distribution of water, and food and non-food items to cover the emergency needs of around 200,000 people located in Mardan, Swabi, Noshwera and surrounding districts. To prevent the spread of infections and the risk of dehydration, the distribution of hygiene kits as well as the construction of latrines, washing facilities or waste collection points is planned. The NGO was able, with the support of Shelter Box, to distribute 120 shelter boxes in Mardan.

A few questions to Nicolas
Emergency Operations Manager

How are tasks distributed during an emergency intervention?
An emergency intervention includes a lot of actions that have to be coordinated simultaneously and/or successively. The evaluation team first makes an assessment in the field and gathers information about the IDPs’ location in order to evaluate their precise needs. Our staff then sets up the necessary infrastructure for the emergency operation, liaises with our partners and begins the recruitment process and the selection of the beneficiaries. Sending ACTED experienced people in the first phases of the emergency is crucial to save time and provide an immediate and smooth response.

What is the role/importance of GIS mapping?
GIS mapping has a key role in the devise of a strategic response. It enables to visualize quickly where the needs are. It is also an extraordinary tool to organize the field work, as it shows the administrative and social boundaries. Not only are these maps extremely useful for ACTED but also for all other stakeholders, as ACTED shares these maps with all of them as a means to avoid overlapping between actors and to identify potential gaps.

What are the main logistical difficulties when responding to an emergency?
Unlike the earthquake 5 years ago in Pakistan or the Indonesian tsunami that destroyed the whole infrastructure, the logistic constraint has now nothing to do with poor access, but rather with the extent of the crisis. Vulnerable IDPs are everywhere - in host families, in public schools or mosques, in organized and spontaneous camps - and spread in a very large area.  With millions of IDPs across NWFP, assessing and reaching the most vulnerable families is not an easy task.

Shelter box distribution for 120 families in Mardan district

Thanks to its partnership with “Shelter Box”, ACTED has been able to deploy rapidly 120 shelters in Mardan district in the North West Province of Pakistan. The shelters were provided as kits in boxes designed to offer a complete and immediate answer to most IDP needs. These kits are composed of a large tent for up to 8 people, a kitchen set, a stove, 2 water jerry cans as well as water purification tabs.  Prior to the distribution, ACTED conducted a thorough assessment that focused on IDPs residing with relatives and IDPs residing in public buildings. In order to reduce the pressure on space in public building and host families, ACTED has decided to prioritize the population of Sikandari and Rorya for the distribution of shelter boxes.
To select the most vulnerable beneficiaries, criteria such as the size of the family, the number of people living in the same room as well as the level of poverty of the IDP family have been taken into account. The final selection list has been established and the distribution location and the set time have been communicated to the selected beneficiaries prior to the distribution.
This distribution has not only allowed 120 families to access shelter and first necessity items, but it also allowed releasing pressure on all the other families who were sharing the rooms. Following this first operation, ACTED is now continuing the detailed assessment of other districts for the support in shelter, water and sanitation and financial early recovery of more than 6,500 families.