Frustration is growing among several aid groups pressing for access in Pakistan’s quake-hit Balochistan.
It’s been two weeks since a powerful tremor and aftershock rattled the province, but the government has yet to allow humanitarians in on the action.
The military has been leading aid efforts in quake-affected areas, particularly in hard-hit Awaran and Kech districts. Several local civil society groups and the Pakistan Red Crescent Society have been allowed to extend assistance, but the government has yet to make a formal international appeal, leaving all international NGOs on standby.
“We are all ready with our stocks for movement; we have contingency stocks. Other iNGOs are also there placed. But the appeal has not been made by the government … we’re still waiting for that go ahead,” a spokesperson for Concern Worldwide told Devex.
Aid organizations, such as the Medecins Sans Frontieres, have been raising health care concerns. Chris Lockyear, MSF’s operations manager in the area, said last week: “The health indicators are already poor in Balochistan … We’re concerned that for the people there, the impact of the earthquake will have made the situation worse.”
Indeed, many of the iNGOs we consulted shared the same view. A spokesperson for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the Pakistan Red Crescent Society — one of the very few entities allowed to work alongside the government — reported diarrhea, malnutrition among children and complications in pregnant women. Health care and female health practitioners are also among the high priority needs in the province, according to the National Disaster Management Authority.
But an official part of the NDMA disaster risk reduction team told Devex the current circumstance is within the capacity of the government, and therefore they don’t see the need to ask for international help at the moment.
“They can provide whatever relief and support they want to NDMA or the provincial government … but we think it is within the reach of the government of Pakistan, so we have not launched any appeal,” said Idrees Mahsud.
Mahsud acknowledges the area is a challenging place to work in: rough terrain, vast area, damaged infrastructure, poor communication network and a scattered population. There are also significant security concerns, although he argued that it is but a small factor in the decision of the government to restrict the number of organizations allowed.
“It’s a very small element in the decision. But you know security situation can be anywhere; we don’t want such a situation to happen there,” he argued.
Not many development organizations operate in Balochistan. Concern concluded two development projects in Awaran in 2009, but the spokesperson said they have not applied for funding for a project there since.
“The local Balochistan Liberation Front normally do not let iNGOs or NGO workers travel around to that area. [So we’re] currently at a standstill because of the security.”
In this tragedy however, the militant group has appealed to NGOs for help.
“We will not allow army or FC (paramilitary Frontier Corps) here, only NGOs or local officials are allowed to come here,” Balochistan National Movement’s Dr. Manan Baloch has told AFP.
In 2012, the International Committee of the Red Cross scaled down its operations in the country, including ending its activities in Balochistan, following the death of one of its staff members.
Only a small number of local organizations have ongoing operations in the province. One of them is the Pakistan Red Crescent Society, whose local network on the ground enabled it to be among the first responders in the quake’s aftermath.