Sunday, July 20, 2014

National Policy on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Pakistan


By Shad Begum[1]

Pakistan is prone to natural and man-made disasters. A major earthquake in 2005 and floods and militancy in 2009-2010 caused massive displacements of population, yet we rely on ad hoc measures in times of crisis.  Although Pakistan has a National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Provincial Disaster Management Authorities (PDMA) and a FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) to tackle with both natural and man-made disasters and its aftermath; however, no statutory or legal framework exists to guide various government institutions on pre-displacement measures to provide protection, assistance, relief and rehabilitation to the IDPs.  In the current scenario of North Waziristan Agency IDPs, there is a visible confusion, even competition, among various government agencies to address the IDPs crisis. In such a scenario, the victims of disasters are further subjected to the inefficiency of government institutions.

The lack of coordination and cooperation between the different disaster management authorities and departments is so evident that FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) puts the figure of North Waziristan IDPs at 787,888 individuals while the provincial authority cites it at close to 0.6 million. Even worst, despite these contradictory claims regarding the actual numbers, a large number of IDPs are still not registered so far. Unfortunately, only registered IDPs are entitled to receive assistance, which means that thousands of IDP families are still without relief assistance since June 15 i.e. the start of the military operation and displacement in North Waziristan. If the government authorities were better prepared to handle this crisis, the relief assistance should have started from day one and IDPs would have not gone through the grill of waiting for hours in the scorching heat in the month of Ramadan.

PDMA has requested United Nations Office for Coordination and Humanitarian Affairs  (UNOCHA) to provide support in conducting a rapid needs assessment of the North Waziristan IDPs. The policy of government to allow work status to national or international humanitarian organizations is still problematic, as some humanitarian organizations including faith based organizations are providing the relief assistance to the IDPs while others are kept waiting for the rapid needs assessment by PDMA. The bureaucratic delays and lack of coordination among  SAFRON, FDMA, and PDMA have come to a situation that even the Imran Khan Foundation was initially not allowed to distribute the relief goods among the IDPs in Bannu because of lack of NOC.

The lack of IDPs specific legislation and a national policy adversely affects the rights of IDPs to health and education, adequate shelter and housing, documentation, economic activities, employment, and also their political rights if the displacement is prolonged. Article 15 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan entitles its citizens to freedom of movement throughout Pakistan and “to reside and settle in any part thereof”; however, we recently saw that some provinces put a ban on the movement of IDPs from North Waziristan. This was in clear violation of the constitution but taking advantage of the devolution of powers after the 18th Constitutional Amendment, provinces have taken upon themselves to decide on matters that have implications for the Federation.

Both in the case of the Swat-Malakand and the North Waziristan IDP crisis, massive displacements of population occurred without adequate prior warning. No proper arrangements were made in time to look after millions of population consisting of women, children, old age persons and people with disabilities. The government authorities in Pakistan didn’t allow UN agencies to provide assistance to the North Waziristan IDPs. The UN and other humanitarian agencies follow the Sphere Handbook (Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response), which provides some guiding principles on camp arrangements. Similarly, due to lack of cultural sensitivity on family cohesion, and women and children’s special needs, majority of the displaced persons opted to stay in rented houses or with hosting families.

A regulatory and policy framework on IDPs enables countries to anticipate disasters, prepare national plans of action, and focus on various phases of the displacements from relief to early recovery and rehabilitation. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa alone, still there are approximately 1.2 million IDPs from various agencies of FATA. Some of these IDPs have stayed longer in the camps than was anticipated as the security situation in FATA is still volatile and the displaced families are not confident to return to their places of origin. Prolonged stay of IDPs in camps, without adequate arrangements for their economic well-being and social protections, can lead to harm and conflict between the IDPs and hosting area population. Very soon the 339,456 IDP children from North Waziristan, most of them school-going, will need educational facilities. It is worth mentioning that some of the school buildings are occupied by IDPs because of summer vacations but soon they will need to be vacated for the children of the host families. Has the government made necessary plans to accommodate the IDP children in the educational facilities is a question that will be asked both by host and IDP population.

To address the policy gap on IDPs, the UNOCHA and FDMA agreed on a “Return Policy Framework” in 2010 to facilitate the return and rehabilitation of FATA IDPs; however, since the Federal Ministry of State and Frontier Region (SAFRON) is dealing with the issues of FATA and frontier regions; therefore, the responsibility of tackling the issue of IDPs from North Waziristan has been bestowed upon the ministry of SAFRON by the prime minister. The problem is that majority of the IDPs from FATA are located in hosting areas that fall within the jurisdiction of the PDMA Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Several countries in the world, such as Philippines, Ecuador, Chili, and Kenya, have developed policies for the internally displaced persons. These policies generally deal with pre-displacement issues to during displacement, and return and rehabilitation comprehensively. Roles of institutions and government departments are identified to avoid overlapping and confusion in responsibilities. It is in the best interest of Pakistan to develop a national framework for dealing with natural and man-made disasters in a more efficient manner.






[1] Shad Begum is a human rights activist from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan and a recipient of international women of courage award

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Agonies of the North Waziristan IDPs Continue


By Shad Begum[1] 

At the Bannu sports complex

On July 1, 2014, my anger turned into frustration and then helplessness during my meetings with the IDPs women and children of North Waziristan at District Bannu.

My little worries and security concerns of overnight stay at Bannu were completely overwhelmed when I reached the Bannu Sports Complex and saw men, women and children waiting in scorching heat with out shelter. All of these women were cladded in traditional Burqa, some of them with breast-feeding babies in their laps sitting on the roadside.

On the gate of the distribution point for food ration I asked a woman why she is waiting out side the gate. She said, “I have come here to collect food ration and waiting here since early morning and have left my children at home but have not received any ration so far”.  When I asked the security personnel standing at the gate that why these women are not getting ration, he said they are not registered. I told him why don’t you tell them to get registered first. He said these are good-for-nothing women who have come out of their homes to collect food ration. A surge of anger overtook me and told the security guard this is very undignified to treat women in distress with such attitude.

I entered the gate and saw many more women still waiting. Some of them were having fake registration tokens, others were having old National Identity Cards (NIC) which were not accepted by the authorities as a valid proof, while others were not having the identity cards because the Taliban had put a ban on women to apply for the NICs.

It also came to my knowledge that an invisible mafia is collecting Computerized National Identity Cards (CNICs) from widows and unaccompanied women on the pretext to get them registered but disappeared.

I was pained to notice that the illiteracy of these women is adding insult to injury. In this horrific situation it came to my mind that when a men gets frustrated, he expresses it through anger but I saw a sickening helplessness on the faces of women IDPs. These women are vulnerable to exploitation by ruthless profiteers. The chances of human trafficking can not be ruled out in such situation as was witnessed during Swat-Malakand IDPs crisis, in which the illiterate and unaccompanied women were misguided and some of them ended up in red light areas of Pakistan’s urban centers.  

The sufferings of these women could have been avoided by a small measure to setup an information desk staffed by female at the food distribution point, which was missing. I saw bearded man drinking cold water from a nearby vendor to beat the scorching heat, mindful that it was the holy fasting month, I felt the sufferings of these Pashtuns men for whom fasting is not only a religious obligation but a matter of honor and pride, yet they were drinking water in public.

When I came out of the distribution point, another group of women surrounded me with volleys of questions, yet a child of 14 years caught my attention and asked me where is the registration point. I asked him whether he had no elders, he said his mothers and sisters are living in a room granted by a host family in another village and that he is the senior male at home. I give him some money and directed him towards some officials to know about the registration. I kept busy with the women but after sometime, the child came back and retuned me the money. I told him this was for his family to buy some food till he gets registered and receive food ration, but he strongly resisted taking the money. I was highly impressed by his dignity and self-respect.

I also asked some of the IDPs about the reasons for not being registered at the only registration point of Sadgai check post.  They told me that there were rumors that the registration was about collecting information about the Taliban, therefore they avoided to come through Sadgai check post and they entered Bannu through other routes.

At the office of the Commissioner Bannu Division

With the feeling of frustration at the arrangements at the Bannu sports complex, I went to the office of the Commissioner Bannu Division to share some of my thoughts on the situation of the arrangements for the IDPs. Thoroughly professional and pragmatic in his approach, the Commissioner cordially welcomed me to his office and provided relevant information on the number of IDPs at various locations. I shared with him that the difficulties of the IDPs in the registration process, in getting necessary information, and standing in long queues in the scorching heat to get the ration of food. I also managed to tell him that better arrangements at the distribution point could save IDPs from unnecessary sufferings, for example a one window facility wherein each government actor (National Data Base and Registration Authority, FATA Disaster Management Authority, Provincial Disaster Management Authority, SAFRON and security agencies) could sit together and provide all the services to the IDPs under one roof. He said that the influx of IDPs was quite sudden and there are areas of improvements. I also shared my information that the prices of rent have been exaggeratedly increased by host families, which his office could regularize by convening a meeting of the local property and estate agents to fix a reasonable rate according to the market rate. During our conversation the Commissioner was also attending to other visitors (local MPAs, and district officials) who came to his office because the Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was on a visit to meet the IDPs at Bannu. His attention was divided but he was willing to start work on some initiatives to make sure that IDPs are treated well in District Bannu.

Visit to the Women and Children Hospital at Bannu

The Women and Children Hospital at Bannu is the only specialized hospital in maternity and pediatric care with a big catchment area. Bannu district’s population is approximately 1.2 million. The influx of around 4.5 million IDPs and patients from the adjacent districts and South Waziristan has overburdened the hospital. From 16th to 29th June, around four thousand IDPs women and children were treated in the already approved budget of the hospital. There was no additional budget provided by the government to look after the increasing number of IDPs patients. The hospital authorities disclosed that gastro enteritis; sun and heat strokes due to long journey, skin and chest infection and malaria are some of the prominently reported diseases among the women and children IDPs.  Similarly premature deliveries due to shock and journey by foot, death of newborn babies and cesarean deliveries are also reported. I visited the women ward of the hospital and talked to a mother of a newborn baby. She looked weak and anemic.  I talked to her husband to give some food supplements to his wife as she was too weak to talk but he said he can’t afford and wised he could go back to his village at the earliest.  My feeling was that the hospital did not have sufficient qualified staff, which could have been addressed by calling the medical staff from North Waziristan to Bannu on need basis.

NGOs at work

The Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) has strictly forbidden NGOs from any relief assistance unless they get an NOC (No objection certificate) for work. However I noticed that some of the NGOs, including faith-based organizations, were busy in providing relief assistance to the IDPs. 

Meeting with Director General (DG) at PDMA

The next day, I went to PDMA to share some of my visit observations with the Director General (DG) at Peshawar.   I was especially curious to know is to why some NGOs are allowed to work while others are kept in waiting. The DG PDMA had convened a meeting of the UNOCHA and some of the national humanitarian organizations to seek support for providing human resource and logistic support to conduct the Rapid Need Assessment in district Bannu. I attended the meeting, after which I met the DG PDMA and shared my observations of the Bannu visit.  After our discussion, I came to the conclusion that there is a visible confusion and competition among various government agencies to look after the IDPs.

The ministry of SAFRON is taking the lead and providing relief assistance to the IDPs through the military but majority of the IDPs are falling within the jurisdiction of the provincial government and its PDMA. The authority of the FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) is limited to the Bakka Khel IDP camp at FR Bannu, which is a FATA area. However very limited families of IDPs are staying in the Bakka Khel camp. It is worth mentioning that the ministry of SAFRON has experience of dealing with Afghan refugees but the PDMA is legally mandated and has the experience of dealing with IDPs from Swat and various agencies of FATA residing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.  Apart from the approximately 0.5 million IDPs of North Waziristan the PDMA have been looking after nearly 1.2 million IDPs for the last few years in the province.

My last impressions were that the tug of war between various government agencies is only adding to the miseries of the IDPs.



[1] Shad Begum is a human rights activist from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan and a recipient of international women of courage award