Just recently, after three years of negotiation with the government, the mission has been given approval to start some projects to assist those affected by the current violence in eastern Balochistan and we are about to commence a nutritional program there. However, it is not only medical assistance that we provide to the people in these areas. As FinCo, it is readily apparent to me from the size of our budget that there are significant economic benefits in the large number of people we employ and also in the improvements we make to the infrastructure of MoH facilities.
On my visits to our projects in Kuchlak and Chaman in the southwest of the country it has been gratifying to see the improvements that Médecins Sans Frontières has helped to make to the facilities for patients, even over the space of a couple of months. In Kuchlak, these included a nutrition room (to replace the tent used previously the government) and a new antenatal consulting room that has allowed the existing space to be used as a second birthing room. In Chaman, which is on the border with Afghanistan, I was able to see the recently completed room for the new nutrition program, as well as discuss other major planned improvements to the facilities there.
My visits to the field have been hampered by both the local security situation in the project areas and by other events in Pakistan and elsewhere. In two of our projects, in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), we have not been able to have International Field Staff on the ground since June 2007. More recently, as a result of the escalation of violence in the region, any International Field Staff presence in the foreseeable future is unlikely.
The security situation in Islamabad itself has been tense at times with actual or threatened suicide bombings occurring regularly. Bombings of the nearby Danish embassy and a restaurant visited in the past by Médecins Sans Frontières staff have raised my awareness of the potential risk of working here, but not to a level yet where I feel in any real danger. In Chaman, International Field Staff are restricted to the hospital compound, so there is no scope to explore the town or the wider area on days off. In contrast, one of the luxuries that I have in the capital is the ability to take a walk for a couple of hours in the beautiful Margallah hills that surround Islamabad.