A World Food Program official warns that international aid agencies
have become a target of the Taliban in Pakistan, as seen by the recent
bombing of a hotel in the city of Peshawar.
The June 9 bombing of the Pearl Continental Hotel in the northwestern Pakistan city of Peshawar claimed at least nine lives.
Paul Risely is the United Nations World Food Program spokesman, and just returned to his Bangkok office after spending three weeks in Pakistan. He says the bombing sent a definite message from the Taliban.
"The targeting of that hotel was a clear signal to the humanitarian community and to the United Nations that the Taliban consider any efforts to provide assistance to the displaced people, to the people of this area, in conflict with their own goals," said Risely. "And again similar to what we saw in Baghdad in 2003 when the United Nations was targeted - the U.N. has become a target for terrorism. That won't go away."
The 2003 bomb attack on the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad killed 22 people.
The Pearl Continental Hotel had been considered one of the most secure in the Peshawar. More than 30 international aid workers were staying at the hotel at the time.
Aid groups aren't scared
Risley says the attack has not frightened away aid groups.
"It was very clear to me that despite this attack and despite the continuing terrorist attacks on Pakistan's cities and towns throughout the region, while I was there, that the humanitarian effort can't be deterred providing food, providing medical care, providing clean drinking water for the more than two million people displaced currently - is far too important," he said.
The WFP aid program covers more than 2.5 million people displaced by the fighting in Pakistan's Swat Valley and Waziristan province. More refugees being displaced were expected in the coming days, as the Pakistan military continues its offensive to push out the Taliban insurgents.
Hundreds of thousands of displaced people live in camps in Pakistan. But about 1.5 million people are crammed into private homes, often as many as 24 to a single room. The WFP also aids home owners faced with the added burden of providing food for refugees from the fighting.
Risley says the challenges remain daunting, although there are hopes the fighting may be over before winter, when the refugees' needs will increase sharply, and weather hampers aid deliveries.
But he says many families vow to return home only when it is fully safe to do so. They do not want to return too soon and then be forced out again if fighting resumes.