BANNU, NW PAKISTAN - Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. Authorities say about 80 percent of estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Wali Mohammad is among the hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis who have fled the fighting and have ended up at a temporary camp here in Bannu.
“I am living in a tent together with my wife and a child under extremely tough conditions where there is no electricity or other facilities,," he said. "I have also run out of whatever cash I brought with me before leaving my home.”
Wali Mohammad said he was working as a private security guard back in his native village and was critically wounded three years ago in what he said was “bombardment” from the air.
“As soon as [Pakistani] planes began bombing in our area I was already terrified, so we [the family] fled to a nearby mountain for safety," he said. "There was a curfew in the village for three days and when we came down authorities gave us just one day to abandon our homes and leave the area.”
Pakistani authorities say they have registered nearly everyone who left their homes in North Waziristan since the army offensive began a month ago. In the government camps, authorities provide food staples and cash grants.
Many people are avoiding the camps, though, saying their cultural restrictions bar females from public exposure. Instead, they have moved in with host families or rented houses.
With food aid deliveries now going smoothly, U.N. World Food Program country-director, Lola Castro, said aid workers are focusing on improving care for females.
“Women in these cases of displacement are the most vulnerable. There will be widows, there will be old people there will be women female household with a lot of children. Those are our main interest and we want to capture all of them,” said Castro.
Authorities hope to have a verified count of the estimated 1 million displaced people by early August, but Castro said in the meantime, there is no shortage of stocks.
“USAID together with the government of Pakistan are at this moment our big donors, and we have stocks in the warehouses from USAID and also the contribution from the government of Pakistan in kind came in very timely,” she said.
Many women and children are settling into Bannu area schools, which currently are closed due to summer holidays. But the fate of these refugees after the schools reopen remains unclear, making the future even more uncertain for Khan and his family.
“We do not know whether we will be able to go back and we do not know the extent of damage the fighting has caused to our properties back in our native areas,” said Wali Mohammad.
While the counterinsurgency operation in North Waziristan is making gains, army commanders say it is premature to say when it will be completed, allowing displaced families to return to their homes.