Refugees in Pakistan’s northwest face inappropriate aid distribution

ISLAMABAD - Refugees fleeing the Pakistani military’s anti-Taliban operations in the country’s troubled northwest face a familiar sub-continental malaise: inappropriate distribution of aid.

One telling instance of this is the distribution of wheat and not flour among the refugees. This forces them to sell the wheat at rock bottom prices to millers and then purchase flour from them at exorbitant rates so they can feed themselves and their families.

Wheat, as we all know, needs to be ground into flour before it can be made into bread - and giving somebody a sackful of wheat without the wherewithal to grind it is about as much use as presenting them with a chocolate bicycle on midsummers day, The News said in an editorial Monday.

A consequence of this anomaly is that IDPs (internally displaced persons) are forced to sell the bags of wheat at knock-down prices to the millers in order that they can afford to buy flour to make the bread that will feed them. The millers then grind the wheat which they re-sell at inflated prices to the IDPs, thus recycling back to the millers the money that they used to capitalise what for them is a very lucrative business, the editorial added.

With around three million displaced by the fighting in the Swat, Buner and Lower Dir districts of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) “and no end to their misery in sight we face a problem of medium-term sustenance rather than emergency relief”, The News said.

“The random and often inappropriate donation and distribution of aid helps nobody and often serves to heighten the sense of loss felt by IDPs,” it added.

Hearkening to Marie-Thrse, the wife of Louis XIV, the editorial said: “Giving wheat to people who need flour is tantamount to saying ‘then let them eat cake’.”

The Pakistani military went into action April 26 after the Taliban violated a controversial peace accord with the NWFP government and moved south from their Swat headquarters to occupy Buner, which is just 100 km from Islamabad.

The operations began in Lower Dir, the home district of Taliban-backed radical cleric Sufi Mohammad who had brokered the peace deal and who is the father-in-law of Swat Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah, and later spread to Buner and Swat.

The military says that over 1,200 militants have so far been killed in the operations that entered their 38th day Monday. There is, however, no independent conformation of this as the media has been barred from the battle zone.

The UN office in Islamabad says $543 million would be required for relief and rehabilitation of the refugees.


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