Page last updated at 17:12 GMT, Thursday, 14 May 2009 18:12 UK

UN calls for massive Pakistan aid


The UNHCR calls for huge amounts of aid for those displaced in Pakistan

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, has called for a massive aid operation to help those displaced in north-west Pakistan.

He said that in the past two weeks, the UN had registered more than 800,000 Pakistanis fleeing fighting between the army and the Taleban.

Without help, he warned, they could contribute to the instability.

Mr Guterres was speaking after visiting makeshift camps housing those displaced by the conflict in the Swat valley.

Antonio Guterres
Antonio Guterres visited camps for the thousands of displaced people

He said many were living in harsh conditions in very hot weather, and urged a massive injection of emergency aid so their grievances would not spark further conflict.

He said: "If you are not able to cope with the challenges posed by such an overwhelming number of people displaced, in communities that have not the economic capacity to absorb them, and if the very serious humanitarian response is not organised, this population will become a huge factor of destabilisation."

Dramatic situation

Mr Guterres added that the authorities recognised that both the number of displaced and the speed with which they had fled, had created a situation as dramatic as the conflict.

Young girl displaced by the fighting
Those in the makeshift camps are enduring harsh conditions in hot weather2

They join at least 500,000 people already uprooted by the army's battles against the Taleban, in a region that has hosted Afghan refugees for decades.

It was clear, said Mr Guterres, that the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan now had one of the most alarming patterns of displacement in the world.

Fighting has continued in the Swat region and the neighbouring district of Lower Dir. The military says 54 militants and nine soldiers have been killed over the last 24 hours. These figures cannot be independently confirmed.

The Taleban are waging an insurgency to impose Sharia law, and to expand the areas they control in Pakistan.

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