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New aid crisis in Pakistan

The Pakistani government has blocked food aid to war-torn Balochistan.

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Pakistan's military government is preventing aid groups from helping more than 80,000 people – many of them acutely malnourished children – who have been displaced by a widening civil war in remote southern Balochistan, say international aid workers and diplomats.

An internal assessment by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), shown to the Monitor, paints a disturbing portrait.

UNICEF and Pakistan provincial health officials, who surveyed the area in July and August, report that 59,000 of those suffering are women and children and that 28 percent of the children under 5 were "acutely malnourished." Six percent of the children were so underfed that they would die without immediate medical attention.

"I would say this now qualifies as a 'crimes against humanity' situation," says one foreign observer who has interviewed delegates from the region.

For six months, aid agencies and diplomats have been pressing Pakistan authorities to permit them to distribute aid packages, which include emergency rations, tents, and medicine. The UN won't deliver aid without permission from the host nation, says Robert van Dijk, the top UNICEF officer for Pakistan.

He and other aid workers say provincial officials have continued to assist his local staff in monitoring conditions in southern Balochistan, but more senior provincial and federal officials have simply refused his requests or derailed efforts with endless bureaucratic hurdles.

"We have tried everything to get our aid there," says Mr. van Dijk. "I even know of aid groups that tried to deliver relief without permits, but they got turned back on the road."

Meanwhile, reports from the region indicate the situation has grown even more wretched with the onset of winter.

Pakistani authorities have dismissed the UNICEF report as overblown, saying the majority of people in Balochistan were already dirt-poor and nomadic, and that most of those displaced by fighting returned home after an important rebel leader was killed in August.

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