January 09, 2008

When the violence started on December 23 in Kurram Agency, North West Frontier Province, Pakistan, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) assessed the situation and began responding to the needs of the population. This is the second time within a year that sectarian clashes have resulted in prolonged insecurity and casualties.

The towns of Alizai and Sadda have come under heavy fire from rival factions. Mortars exploded within the vicinity of Alizai and Sadda hospitals, where MSF provides assistance, causing damage to MSF buildings, an ambulance, and a hospital mosque. MSF teams provided support and medical materials for more than a hundred wounded who were being treated in the hospital, but it has had to reduce the number of staff due to insecurity.

Since January 3, a ceasefire has held and it has now been extended to January 15. MSF teams have access to parts of Kurram, although full services have yet to be restored. MSF has also been able to access some of the people fleeing the fighting and seeking refuge in Sadda and Durrani, the latter a former Afghan refugee camp about two miles south of Sadda. In Sadda, 361 displaced people have found shelter in eight government facilities, including schools and hospitals, but some families are living outside. In Durrani, 872 people are living in handmade tents and mud shelters covered with plastic sheeting.

Fearing a return to violence, most of these families do not expect to go back to their homes in the near future. Enduring the coldest months of the year, people in this isolated tribal area face acute shortages of necessities, including food and fuel.

MSF has distributed blankets and emergency food supplies—special enriched milk and BP-5 biscuits, a high-protein, ready-to-use food?to all displaced families. An MSF war-wounded kit, consisting of materials and equipment specifically needed to treat victims of fighting, has arrived. Tents, cooking sets, hygiene kits, and additional food will be distributed in the following days.

MSF remains concerned about the access of war wounded and civilians to health care.

Sectarian violence between Shia and Sunni supporters began in November. Local peace talks are underway to try to resolve the issue. Kurram’s population remains on edge as the holy calendar month of Muharrum ul Harram begins—traditionally a period of sectarian tension.

MSF has been working in Pakistan since 2000, and is currently carrying out medical activities in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Balochistan. It is the only international medical organization present in Sadda and Alizai.

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