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A year after conflict, civilians still need help in Swat

Almost a year after the onset of conflict forced hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee northern Pakistan's Swat Valley and surrounding areas, most of the displaced have returned, but their needs remain acute.

More than 2 million people fled following the initial stage of the emergency, but today 80 to 90 per cent have returned to their home areas, according to government figures. The trigger for last year's displacement was government operations by forces against militants.

Today, Swat's capital Mingora is once again a bustling town, but the human cost of the conflict is still being felt across the Swat Valley. UNHCR and its partners are helping some of the most vulnerable returnees by building shelters to replace those damaged or destroyed.

UNHCR is aiming to build more than 12,000 shelters for families whose houses were badly damaged or destroyed. Typically, these people live in small rural villages and were already very poor. The programme in the area provides families with shelters of timber frames, mud walls and corrugated iron roofs. Affected families and communities help build the shelters through a cash-for-work programme. To date, UNHCR has built 3,500 shelters across Swat, Buner and Lower Dir despite disruptive winter snows and curfews.

The displacement crisis in north-west Pakistan is not over. In addition to those who fled last May some 1.3 million people from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas remain displaced in various parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the new name of North West Frontier Province. Many of those from Bajaur have lived in camps for more than 18 months, while many still flee conflict areas such as Orakzai and Kurram.

Today, UNHCR in Pakistan faces a complex humanitarian operation on several fronts. In addition to helping people rebuild lives and homes in return areas, new internally displaced people (IDPs) from need to be registered and given emergency relief. The longer-term displaced still need care. The situation is certain to continue; more than 130,000 people live in nine camps which have to be maintained or consolidated.

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