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Pakistanis Continue to Flee South Waziristan

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The U.N. refugee agency says Pakistani civilians are fleeing South Waziristan by the thousands following the start of military operations against Taliban insurgents over the weekend. The UNHCR says it has begun distributing non-food relief to the displaced.

The U.N. refugee agency says local authorities have registered some 32,000 internally displaced people since October 13. He says this brings the total number of registered people who fled South Waziristan since May to more than 112,000.

The agency, through local partners, has been distributing relief items such as kitchen sets, blankets, sleeping mats and jerry cans to registered internally displaced people. It says the distribution will continue on Wednesday.

U.N. refugee spokesman, Andrej Mahecic, says so far those who have fled the fighting in South Waziristan have been living with host families.

"However, the government has informed UNHCR that they are considering the establishment of camps and we stand ready to assist in providing all-weather tents and site preparation if required," Mahecic said. "We understand various sites are being explored by the government at this time. Humanitarian access to people in need remains the key challenge for humanitarian agencies in this operation given the volatile security environment in the displacement areas. In addition to aid given to individual families, assistance will need to be extended to hospitals, schools and other public facilities that may come under strain with large influxes of people."

In the meantime, a World Health Organization spokesman, Paul Garwood says the current wave of people leaving South Waziristan is causing a major strain on health services in the area.

"WHO has pre-positioned supplies and hope to train Pakistani health authorities to prepare for this wave of people coming into the area," Garwood said. "But, more supplies are needed, particularly the strengthening of health facilities in areas where IDPs [Internally Displaced People] are streaming into. As yet, we have no sign of casualties or disease outbreaks in this area. But, we are standing ready to prepare for this."

Garwood says WHO is positioning polio health workers along the border with Afghanistan. He says this will give health workers the opportunity to immunize children against polio before they cross the border into Afghanistan.

In addition, Garwood says WHO sent enough medical supplies into the area last week to provide emergency health care for 50,000 people over the next three months. He says WHO is sending more supplies in that will double the number of beneficiaries.