NEW DELHI - Tens of thousands more Pakistanis are likely to be forced from their homes in 2010 as the military continues an assault against the Taliban, the head of the U.N. office responsible for emergencies said on Thursday.
About 2.3 million people, mainly in the northwest of the country, were displaced by fighting at the peak of the crisis last year, creating one of the largest displacements in recent times.
While most have returned home, many languish in camps and with host families. Hundreds of thousands have also had to flee as the Pakistani military moves against other Taliban strongholds along the Afghan border to weed out insurgents.
"We expect some returns, but there will also be people who will remain displaced as they have nowhere to go back to as their homes have been destroyed," said Manuel Bessler, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
"We also expect fresh displacements in other areas as hostilities continue and it will be a challenge for us to keep funding for this on-going displacement in the pipeline," he told Reuters by telephone from Islamabad.
The United Nations, together with international and national aid agencies, are helping about 1.2 million displaced people in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
Bessler said the response to an appeal for funds last year had been positive with international donors, as well as the Pakistan government, contributing more than 70 percent of the $680 million required.
Pakistan is one of the best-funded humanitarian emergencies in the world, along with Palestine, Sudan and Yemen -- mainly because of a significant contribution from the United States, which is supporting the offensive against the militants.
However, Bessler warned that continuing to provide basic relief such as shelter, food and water for the displacement this year, as well as dealing with the needs of those returning to conflict-affected areas, would be a struggle.
"There is an impression that everything is okay as a lot of the focus was on areas in NWFP like Swat and Buner districts where many people have returned and the situation is much better," said Bessler.
"But I am afraid that areas like FATA, where we are seeing thousands of families being displaced in places like Bajaur and Orakzai, will get less attention, which means less funding, which means it could jeopardize our humanitarian activities."
Bessler said the humanitarian community along with the Pakistan government would be launching an appeal in mid-January for funds for 2010, but he did not give details.
(Editing by Robert Birsel)