Yesterday in Cairo, President Obama eloquently underscored the importance of human security, and the need for everyone to have a safe, dignified and prosperous place in the world. Realizing this aspiration is a daily challenge in the face of widespread human rights violations and vulnerability caused by persecution and conflict.
One challenge to the world's capacity to care for its citizens is taking place right now in Pakistan, where the conflict between the government and militants in the northwest has forced almost three million people from their homes. According to the UN Refugee Agency, this is the most rapid large-scale displacement the world has witnessed since the movement into the Congo after the Rwandan genocide.
More than 80 percent of the displaced are staying with host families, posing a tremendous burden to already poor people, and making it difficult for humanitarian agencies to reach the most vulnerable. While food needs are largely being met, there are severe shortages of shelter, medicine, clean water, and sanitation facilities.
Reports from relief workers in daily contact with the displaced suggest that they are discouraged by the meager response to their plight so far. A crisis of such proportion has the potential to create a mass of people who, out of despair and hopelessness, might become part of another vicious cycle of frustration and violence. The risk to Pakistan's overall stability is very real, and this ultimately poses risks to the United States and its interests in the region as well.
As someone deeply committed to refugee causes for many years, in the Middle East and beyond, and as a member of the Board of Directors of Refugees International, my plea is that the world respond more effectively to this crisis than it has to date. The most immediate need for action is simple -- for funding to be made available to agencies that can deliver assistance directly to the refugees at the village level. The U.S. has been generous -- with a new commitment of $200 million just announced by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, on top of the previous commitment of $110 million. But other donor governments are lagging, and the UN and private agencies are short of funds while the crisis continues to grow.
The best way for the public to be involved is to donate funds to credible humanitarian agencies with a track record of working in Pakistan. A list of agencies responding to the crisis may be found at www.interaction.org.