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Red Cross: Fighting Forces at Least 200,000 to Flee Homes in Pakistan's Tribal Areas


The International Committee of the Red Cross says the situation in Pakistan's tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan is increasingly volatile. The ICRC says it is providing life-saving assistance to tens of thousands of people who have been forced to flee their homes by fighting between government and opposition forces in this Taliban and al-Qaida stronghold. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from ICRC headquarters in Geneva.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says the dramatic intensification of fighting in Bajaur Agency has caused between 200,000 and 300,000 people to flee their homes. It says 80 percent of those displaced are women and children.

These people have mainly fled to Lower Dir, Marden and Peshawar in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province. ICRC Head of Delegation in Pakistan, Pascal Cuttat, says about 50,000 people are concentrated In makeshift tented camps. And, he says about 14,000 people have fled across the border to Afghanistan.

"It says a lot about the situation these people fled from if they cross the border into Afghanistan and felt safer there. These people had left, as I said before, they had left so fast with virtually nothing that they needed," he said.

Cuttat describes the situation as very fluid. He says people are constantly on the move. When conditions appear to have calmed down, many return home. Then, when fighting escalates between the warring parties, he says they are likely to flee again.

He says the Red Cross is planning to provide assistance for around 60-thousand people until the end of the year. But, he notes the number of beneficiaries is likely to keep changing as this pattern of unstable movements continue.

He says the most immediate needs are access to clean water and sanitation. "No food, no health, no shelter is going to be of any good if the people get water-borne diseases. You have to imagine the situation with people who are very crowded together in a very hot environment in an unclean environment, that these are people who are not used to living in this kind of concentration. These are people who, for cultural sensitivity stay away from each other, stay private. They are secluded from the rest. These are the women and children who are not used to this kind of concentration."

Cholera is endemic in this region. And, Cutter warns there could be a lethal outbreak of the disease if the displaced are not provided with the clean water and sanitation they need.

He says conditions in Pakistan and Afghanistan are closely linked. If fighting intensifies on one side of the border, he says it will affect the other side and provoke a humanitarian crisis.

He says fighting is seasonal in this part of the region. He says it will greatly diminish when the snow and harsh weather arrive in November. Until then, he says, he expects the waves of displacement to continue.

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