United Nations handouts: IDPs upset as rice replaces flour
PESHAWAR, Feb 23: The cash-strapped World Food Programme has stopped distribution of atta (wheat flour) to hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and substituted the food item with rice.
According to IDPs at Jalozai Camp, Nowshera district, the UN agency has stopped distribution of flour on Feb 1 and replaced it with rice over shortage of resources to their misery.
Mohammad Namdar, a member of the camp shura, told Dawn that WFP was providing 40kg rice to IDPs in and off camps instead of wheat flour.
He added that quantity of pulses for IDPs had been reduced from eight to four kilogrammes.
The shura member said the body had sought the provincial governor’s intervention in the matter for necessary action for their relief as IDPs used wheat flour not rice. He said the governor had promised to visit the camp very soon.
WFP spokesman Amjad Jamal said due to unavailability of wheat, the UN agency distributed rice to fulfill cereal requirements of IDPs.
“Currently, wheat is not available and therefore rice is provided,” he said.
The UN body had cut down the size of wheat flour from 80 kilogrammes to 40 kilogrammes last year after which the federal government released 50,000 metric tons of wheat, while the Australian government donated $5 million to continue distribution of food to IDPs.
The agency brought quantity of wheat to previous level after receiving consignment from the government. However, shortage of funds once again forced the UN body to slash quantity of flour from 80 to 40 kilogrammes in January last.
WFP had said it required $136 million to continue food distribution operation for IDPs in current year. It said there was $108 million shortfall and the agency could suspend relief operation anytime if donors did not fulfill their commitments.
Sources in Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) which has lead role in looking after IDPs in the province said the UN agency was running short of funds and unable to continue supply of food rations to affected population at normal pace.
According to PDMA around 623,832 IDPs from different agencies of Fata were living in and outside camps in the province. Fata Disaster Management Authority has also set up camp for IDPs in Kurram Agency.
These sources said federal government had recently made commitment to provide 150,000 metric tons of wheat to WFP for IDPs. They said the provincial government had also requested the centre to release consignment of wheat to WFP to avoid food crises.The WFP spokesman said Economic Coordination Committee had approved 75,000 metric tons of wheat and flour distribution would be resumed after delivery of the consignment.
On the other hand, the prolonged stay of 163,102 registered displaced families has worried policy makers who termed presence of the IDPs in the province a ‘syndrome’.
They said the province was already overstretched for being host to an estimated two million Afghan nationals.
Mass displacement from Fata has over burdened infrastructure of the nearby provincial capital. Unprecedented surge in the rent of residential units had been witnessed in the city and its outskirts due to the massive scale mass exoduses from tribal belt.
Vehicle population on the city’s roads has also soared to a level where traffic jams had become common sights.
With the rapid increase in population, criminal activities had also risen as it was difficult for the security apparatus to check the displaced people.
“Scarcity of food item for the IDPs can snowball into major crisis if the food-starved people thread the path of agitation. There would be no way to control them,” said a senior official.
He said 700,000 IDPs majority of them from the adjacent Khyber Agency had taken shelter in Peshawar.
“If over half million people suddenly come to roads in Peshawar then who will control them,” he said, “they have electricity problem, they have food problem, they have health and education problems. Now it becomes very, very difficult for the donors and the government to meet their basic needs for such a long period.”
Senior government functionaries in the province and Fata didn’t anticipate return of the IDPs to their home in coming months, saying looking at the federal government’s response to the problem, there seemed to be no solution to it in near future.
They said instead of bringing all IDPs to the province, they could be accommodated inside Fata to cut load on the province.
An official dealing with disaster related issues said the federal government and the army were unwilling to lend receptive ear to the return plan of IDPs.
“Army thinks that its job was to order tribal people to vacate homes and there is no plan for their safe return,” he said.
He said these IDPs would likely to continue their stay in the province by the end of 2013.