(New York) – The government of Pakistan should urgently address the health needs of hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the ongoing fighting in North Waziristan province, Human Rights Watch said today. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Pakistan Country Representative stated on July 9, 2014, that a lack of potable water, sanitation facilities, and health care in the main internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in the city of Bannu in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province was heightening the risk of communicable disease outbreaks.
“The Pakistani government is obligated to address the basic needs of people displaced by the military operations in North Waziristan,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. “The warning from the UN should be a call to action to prevent a humanitarian disaster.”
On June 15, the Pakistani military began an air offensive against alleged Pakistani Taliban strongholds. The military action was in response to a June 8 attack by militants against Jinnah International Airport in Karachi that killed more than 18 people. The government then opened a ground offensive on June 30 in North Waziristan involving more than 30,000 troops. The government estimated that as of July 7 the military intervention had displaced almost 800,000 people, and that up to 75 percent of them have taken refuge in Bannu.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Pakistan Country Representative said on July 9 that official obstacles to needed assistance from domestic and international humanitarian organizations were hobbling efforts to provide displaced people with necessary assistance. Pakistan media reported that the government was preventing needed assistance from “dozens of organizations” by delaying official permission, or “No Objection Certificates,” for their operations in the IDP camps.
Those delays persist despite the outbreak in the camps of sanitation-related illnesses, including diarrhea and scabies. Pakistani media reported that local government health providers tasked to assist the displaced people lacked necessary resources and were seeking help from nongovernmental relief agencies.
International humanitarian law applicable to the fighting in North Waziristan places obligations on all parties to the conflict to ensure that humanitarian relief reaches all populations in need, including by ensuring unhindered access to humanitarian agencies.
The UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement set out international human rights and humanitarian law standards to address the assistance and protection needs of displaced people. All displaced people have the right to safe access to “essential food and potable water; basic shelter and housing; appropriate clothing; and essential medical services and sanitation.” Those in need of health care “shall receive to the fullest extent practicable and with the least possible delay the medical care and attention they require,” and “special attention should also be given to the prevention of contagious and infectious diseases.” Offers by humanitarian organizations to assist displaced people “shall not be arbitrarily withheld, particularly when authorities concerned are unable or unwilling to provide the required humanitarian assistance.”
“The displaced people of North Waziristan need help, not needless bureaucratic delays,” Kine said. “Humanitarian assistance should not be a casualty of the military operations that have left thousands homeless.”