Pakistan: Civilians trapped in conflict zone lack food, health care and water

Tens of thousands of civilians in Northern Pakistan face an impending humanitarian disaster, Amnesty International warned today.

Residents of Malakand, in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP), who have fled their homes in the last few days told Amnesty International that civilians left behind face intense combat, much of it in civilian areas, but also suffer from lack of fuel, electricity, food, and access to medical care.

More than half a million Pakistanis have fled the conflict in the last three weeks, bringing the total number of civilians displaced in the last year to 1.3 million. But approximately 700,000 people remain trapped in Swat valley according to a local parliamentarian.

Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director, said:

“The thousands of people in Malakand, who have not been able to flee, now face a major humanitarian crisis.

“The Taleban have shown no regard for their safety and well-being, but now the army seems to be pursuing a scorched earth policy.”

The Pakistani military has imposed a ‘shoot on sight’ policy for anyone violating an indefinite curfew established in Malakand. The curfew was announced from local mosques and through loudspeakers mounted on pick-up trucks.

Sam Zarifi added:

“The Pakistani military should act immediately to help civilians reach safety, and to ensure that food, fuel, and medical supplies reach those still trapped in Malakand.”

Civilians from various areas of Malakand district told Amnesty International that electricity in the area has been cut off, and generators have stopped working because of lack of diesel fuel, creating major problems for hospitals, as well as for food storage. Nearly all ambulance service has now ended.

Meanwhile, residents told Amnesty International that Taleban insurgents have used health facilities, schools, and residential areas to hide and launch attacks from, thus knowingly drawing a military response from the Pakistani military.

Sam Zarifi added:

“The warring sides have to avoid targeting civilian objects like hospitals and schools.”

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