Islamabad: Aid groups in Pakistan need nearly $538 million over the next six months to help hundreds of thousands of people displaced by army clashes against the Taliban, the UN said in an international appeal Tuesday.
The appeal comes as much of the world`s attention is focused on helping earthquake-devastated Haiti and as security remains tenuous along Pakistan`s northwest border with Afghanistan.
A largely successful army offensive in the Swat Valley and surrounding districts has meant some 1.7 million people have returned home since being displaced last year, according to the UN Still, security in parts of the semiautonomous tribal belt and other areas is deteriorating, leading to new internal refugees.
An estimated 1 million Pakistanis remain displaced. Most of the refugees are staying with host families, but tens of thousands are in relief camps.
The UN came up with the $538 million figure after assessing the needs and goals of dozens of local and international aid agencies and the Pakistani government. The biggest chunk of aid they requested, about $195 million, will pay for food for the displaced.
The US has particular interest in keeping Pakistan stable — it needs Islamabad to focus on eliminating militants who use the country as a base from which to plan attacks on Western troops across the border in Afghanistan.
During a news conference announcing the appeal, the official in charge of American aid efforts in Pakistan, Ambassador Robin Raphel, pledged the U.S. would "generously respond to the needs outlined."
She noted whatever the US gives will be in addition to other aid packages amounting to billions the Obama administration has promised Islamabad.
How countries respond to the appeal could depend on the vast needs in Haiti. The disaster there has become a huge priority in the donor community at a time when the economies of many countries are weak.
"Haiti needs money, of course," UN official Manuel Bessler said. "But we are afraid it will affect the donor response for Pakistan."
Last year, when the displacement crisis in Pakistan was at its peak, the UN and humanitarian groups in the country managed to get $485 million of the $680 million they needed, the UN said.
The money went toward everything from providing shelter for refugees to helping educate displaced children.
The UN itself has not escaped the violence in Pakistan. Several of its employees have been killed or kidnapped over the past two years, leading it to suspend long-term development work in Pakistan`s northwest and move some of its expatriate staff out of the country.
Bessler insisted Tuesday that humanitarian efforts had not been affected.