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By Chris Webster
ISLAMABAD -- Poor communities in Pakistan's northwest are hosting up to two million people uprooted by recent violence in the region.
Aid agency World Vision warns these communities - already among the poorest in the world - may join those displaced in the coming days as their assets are sold to help those in need.
"Host families have provided refuge for up to 90 percent of those escaping the fighting," said Graham Strong, World Vision's Country Director in Pakistan. "They are sharing their homes, food, clothes and water. They are poor already and are making themselves poorer in the process."
Many assets are being sold to meet the growing need. "As the disaster continues," explained Strong, "hosts are having to sell their land, cattle and other assets at far less than the market value in order to keep providing for their guests."
As the only international aid agency providing assistance in Buner District, World Vision talked to host villagers whose limited resources are almost depleted. They expressed a major concern that their cultural code of hospitality and compassion is being stretched to its limit and could be masking the scale of the need caused by the crisis.
"Without urgent assistance there is a real fear that impoverished host communities could contribute to another wave of internal displacement," said Strong. "The cultural ethic of generosity and hospitality means hosts are now facing the agonizing choice between asking guests to leave or becoming destitute and displaced themselves."
World Vision found hosts often have little or no connection with those taking refuge in their homes. One host that World Vision spoke to is a 59-year-old man in Buner, and he has taken 37 people into his home. "Many host families have exhausted their wealth and will have to leave themselves or ask their guests to leave. It will be easier to die than to ask families to leave," he said.
World Vision's rapid assessment in Buner found that basic services such as health, education, water and sanitation are being stretched to a breaking point. The assessment also found that pregnant and lactating women and children under five are extremely vulnerable as access to healthcare and medical supplies in one of Pakistan's poorest communities is already severely depleted.
To alleviate the situation, aid agencies are urging donors to fully fund appeals to allow them to address the needs of both the host communities as well as those fleeing violence. World Vision is concerned global fundraising efforts will be impacted by the financial crisis.
"We urge the international community to follow the example of Pakistan's communities who have demonstrated extreme generosity in the hardest of circumstances," said Strong.
World Vision is distributing health kits, mattresses and essential household items in Buner and hopes to raise $13 million to address the urgent needs of more than 200,000 people in Buner, Swabi and Mardan in northwest Pakistan.
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