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Returning Pakistanis need aid at home

With a smile, a girl beckons her younger sibling at a refugee camp in Pakistan.
UMNS photos courtesy of Church World Service.

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
August 31, 2009

To help feed its people, Pakistan relies on the fruits and vegetables, particularly tomatoes, grown in the Swat Valley.

Recovering small farms and orchards will be one priority as the more than 2 million Swat Valley residents return home after being displaced last spring by fighting between the Taliban and government forces, said Marvin Parvez, director of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Program of Church World Service.

“Long-term food security depends on its farmlands,” Parvez, a Methodist from Pakistan, said in a telephone interview.

A girl plays with a string in
front of her family's tent.

Around 1.6 million of those who fled from the Swat Valley in the Northwest Frontier Province had returned to their homes by mid-August, the United Nations has reported, citing Pakistani government figures.

United Methodist contributions are supporting the work of Church World Service in Pakistan—first with food aid and other assistance to the displaced and their host communities and now with the returning families who need help meeting basic needs as they resettle.

“We are definitely very, very thankful to folks from The United Methodist Church and UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) for providing very quick and timely support to jump start our operations,” Parvez said.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief allocated $110,000 to Church World Service and Muslim Aid, another partner in the region, for their work with the displaced.

David Sadoo, an UMCOR executive, said the agency also provided a small grant to the Diocese of Peshawar, Church of Pakistan, which has since closed its relief camp in Mardan.

The diocese provided food, shelter and medical care to 75 Christian families displaced in the fighting and food items to another 29 families. The diocese also arranged for buses and mini-trucks to transport the families back to their homes.

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Many in the humanitarian community expect that all displaced people will have returned home within a month, Parvez said.

“The situation in most of the areas in Swat is under control,” he added. “I think there is enough security that it is encouraging people to go back.”

The United Nations acknowledged the continuing humanitarian crisis by announcing Aug. 24 the appointment of Jean-Maurice Ripert, currently France’s ambassador to the United Nations, to be its special envoy in Pakistan.

That decision, Parvez pointed out, “basically says something about the region—how difficult and challenging it is. We do welcome the new special envoy from the U.N.”

Parvez said he personally feels more optimistic about the situation in his native land. “As a Pakistani, it was very difficult even a few months ago to see any hope.” 

He believes there is now a willingness by the people of Pakistan, and even the government to address problems the country faces, including the challenge of dealing with the Taliban.

A father nestles his children together.

One issue is Taliban opposition to the education of girls, he said. Schools were targeted by Taliban fighters in the Swat Valley, resulting in damage to the facilities and psychological scars to the students.

“The girls are scared to go back to school,” he explained, adding that Church World Service is trying to use radio messages and provide security as a way to encourage parents to send their daughters to school.

Another priority is providing health care for returnees through clinics and basic health units, Parvez said, noting that the agency has offered such care in that province for 30 years.

And food security remains an issue. In April—even before the displacement crisis—the World Food Program declared that nearly half of Pakistan’s 160 million people were at risk of not being able to afford to buy enough food to eat. Recovering farmlands is important for the returning families, he said.  

Donations for the work in Pakistan can be designated to “UMCOR Advance #982450, Pakistan.” Checks can be placed in church offering plates or sent to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, N.Y. 10087-9068. Credit card donations can be made online or by phone at (800) 554-8583.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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UNHCR: Pakistan

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