GENEVA, (Reuters) – Lack of funds is threatening aid programmes providing housing, food and health care to hundreds of thousands of people in some of the most tense areas of Pakistan, the United Nations said on Friday.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said U.N. agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) faced a serious shortage of funds jeopardising basic life-saving activities in the Khyber Pahtunkhwa province, formerly known as the North-West Frontier Province, and the semi-autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
The two regions, bordering Afghanistan, are a focus of the Pakistan government’s efforts to battle al Qaeda and Taliban militants in support of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.
“It’s a really big funding problem for Pakistan and it has consequences — new programmes cannot be launched and existing programmes are already being cut back for lack of money,” OCHA spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told a briefing.
Fighting has recently displaced a further 300,000 people in the FATA districts of Orakzai and Kurram who require food, water, sanitation, health care and shelter, OCHA said. Meanwhile, 1.3 million people already displaced by fighting in the area have still not returned home and require help.
Over 1 million people could lose access to medical care in the frontier regions of Dera Ismail Khan and Tank because the medical NGO Merlin cannot afford to keep its projects open, OCHA said. And Save the Children is closing two programmes in the region affecting almost 200,000 people, it said.
The alarm call comes as displaced people return to the Swat valley in Khyber Pahtunkhwa province and nearby districts after fleeing heavy fighting between government forces and militants last year, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said.
The government estimates that 80-90 percent of the more than 2 million people who fled the Swat valley and surroundings when the fighting started a year ago next week have returned, UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic told the briefing.
Swat’s capital Mingora is once again a bustling town but UNHCR and its NGO partners are providing shelters for thousands of people through a cash-for-work programme.
Poor communities in the area where people are coming home will need a significant investment of funds from donors to make their return sustainable, Mahecic said.