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Aid Agencies Speed Up Humanitarian Assistance to Pakistan

UN aid agencies are expanding and speeding up their relief operations to hundreds of thousands of people displaced by fighting in Pakistan's northwest province. A UNHCR charter plane carrying 120 tons of relief supplies for people fleeing the fighting landed in Pakistan earlier Tuesday.

The UNHCR emergency airlift took off from Dubai early Tuesday morning. The agency says the stock of thousands of mosquito nets, plastic sheets for emergency shelters, plastic rolls and two large portable warehouses it was carrying will be loaded onto seven trucks.

UN refugee spokesman, Ron Redmond, says the supplies will be taken immediately to UNHCR's warehouse in Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier Province.

"This airlifted consignment will bolster the thousands of relief supplies such as tents and kitchen sets, jerry cans and so on that are either locally procured or from our existing stockpiles in Pakistan," Redmond said. "UNHCR is distributing this stuff alongside our non-government partners and local authorities, as part of a joint UN response. People are being registered in camps and at 38 registration centers that have now been established by the authorities with UNHCR help. We are in the process of setting up 75 such registration centers."

Government and UN sources put the number of people displaced in the Swat Valley and other areas in northwest Pakistan at 1.3 million since last August. More than one half million have fled since the recent fighting erupted between government forces and Taliban militants.

Redmond says most of the displaced people from the new influx now have been formally registered by the authorities. He says the majority are staying with relatives, friends or host communities. More than 70,000 are in camps.

World Food Program spokeswoman, Emilia Casella, says her agency is currently feeding 654,000 internally displaced people.

"We have got about enough food for 1.5 million people for the next two to three months," Casella said. "And, that is currently what the stocks are in the country and obviously with this influx, there is a great need for increased funding for all humanitarian services. For food so far this year, 42 million in US dollars have been received. But, we are anticipating that the cost of a food operation of this size is going to be closer to about $120 million."

Aid agencies agree the speed and scale of this crisis is posing huge challenges for everyone. They are appealing to the international community to help the growing number of Pakistanis uprooted by the fighting.