Back in July 2009, we took note of what experts then were calling an "impending humanitarian disaster": the displacement of as many as 2.5 million individuals due to the government's military offensive in the North-West Frontier Province. Soon thereafter, the Pakistan government announced plans to return displaced individuals to their homes, and mainstream news coverage of the crisis subsided and public attention turned elsewhere.
Seven months later, how does the situation look for internally displaced persons? Writing at Changing Up Pakistan, Kalsoom Lakhani provides an update, arguing that although the IDP situation has been "out of the headlines," the crisis remains severe:
[T]he sad reality is that [internally displaced persons] never stopped being an issue. Just last month, news agencies reported that an estimated one million Pakistanis remain displaced, adding, "Most of the refugees are staying with host families, but tens of thousands are in relief camps." According to the organization’s news release, "UNHCR has also rushed relief supplies to help an estimated 135,000 people who fled their homes to escape a security forces operation against militants in Orakzai Agency in December 2009." A humanitarian update released February 5 by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) further reported that since December 2009, the number of IDPs from Orakzai has risen nearly tenfold to over 23,000....
There are also around 250,000 IDPs from Bajaur, who have been displaced since 2008. In Jalozai, the site of one of UNHCR’s largest IDP camps, around 74 percent are from this tribal agency. So, although a large number of IDPs have returned home in the past year (almost 1.7 million people, mostly to Swat and other districts of Malakand Division), a significant amount remain displaced.
As for those who have gone back, their return was the easiest part of the journey. Yesterday, Al Jazeera English had a very interesting story [see above] on the current situation of Swat Valley, nearly a year after the military regained control of the area. In the report, correspondent Hashem Ahelbarra noted that IDP returnees in Swat feel that progress and rebuilding has been too slow "and not enough." [link]
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