BANGALORE, India – A Catholic Church relief worker who recently returned from Pakistan’s troubled Swat Valley said the 1.5 million civilians displaced by a government crackdown on militants are facing “horrible conditions”.

“They are without proper shelter and cannot stand the extreme heat,” Eric Dayal, national coordinator for disaster management of Caritas Pakistan, said.

Mr Dayal said that in most of the relief camps in remote areas the displaced civilians lack proper sanitation and water supplies, and suffer from health problems, including diarrhoea.

The civilian exodus from the mountainous regions of the North-West Frontier province bordering Afghanistan began in early May after the Pakistani government, under international pressure, stormed the stronghold of the Taliban, an Islamic militia.

Caritas Internationalis, the Church’s network of charitable agencies, and other church groups received government permission to distribute relief material, and Mr Dayal said distribution in remote camps was scheduled to begin May 21. Caritas also planned to send medical teams to serve in the camps, operated by the government with the support of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

A statement from Caritas Internationalis in Rome said 85 percent of the displaced Pakistanis were living with host families, and the rest were in camps. It said that the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Relief Services (CRS) would initially provide vouchers so families could acquire shelter materials to meet their own needs in Mardan and Swabi. In addition, it said, CRS will provide cash-for-work programmes.

The statement said the Irish bishops’ aid agency Trocaire would focus on helping host families and people living with them.

Most Caritas agencies work with partner agencies in the areas of need.

-By Anto Akkara, cns

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