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.
(Shad Begum is a human rights activist from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan and a recipient of international women of courage award)