Ensuring Protective Environments for Quake Orphans
By Hugh Delaney and Zahida Manzoor
“On the day of the earthquake, I was at school. My uncle came and took me to a camp. I was searching for my father and mother. No-one told me what had happened. After nine or ten days we could finally reach my village and I saw that my house had been destroyed. They told me that my parents were dead. I cried a lot. I didn’t see their faces. I felt I was lonely. My parents had already been buried”, says Aqib.
“On the day of the earthquake, I was at school. My uncle came and took me to a camp. I was searching for my father and mother. No-one told me what had happened. After nine or ten days we could finally reach my village and I saw that my house had been destroyed. They told me that my parents were dead. I cried a lot. I didn’t see their faces. I felt I was lonely. My parents had already been buried”.
As the nearby mosque calls for evening prayers, light gets dimmer at Ahle-Hadidh camp and Faiza joins her grandmother to cook dinner. Aqib’s uncle, Raja, tells the story of how the family originally arrived in Pakistan in 1990, refugees from neighbouring India-administered Kashmir, fleeing the instability in the region. At first they lived in a tented camp for five years. As refugees, they were then provided land for housing, though the earthquake has meant that they are now homeless once more, the entire extended family of seven living in one tent.
Aqib’s family is one of 102 households being housed temporarily in Ahle Hadidh Camp, one of 20 such settlements dotted around Muzaffarabad, where approximately 15,000 people remain displaced, nearly two years after the earthquake. “Most of the inhabitants of the camps fall under certain categories” says Zahida Manzoor, UNICEF Muzaffarabad Child Protection officer. “Most of them could be considered extremely vulnerable, such as female headed households, disabled people, landless and orphans, such as Aqib and Faiza.”
Aqib and Faiza are just two of the many orphans attending the camp’s child-friendly space, supported by UNICEF. In the crowded camp, the child-friendly space provides the children with a safe and trusting environment where they can play and interact with other children, under the supervision and attention of skilled local social workers who help the children deal with the psycho social impacts of their loss. This child friendly environment also seeks to impart essential life skills, to equip the children with the confidence and know-how to cope with their present living conditions.
UNICEF is also supporting many of the camps with the provision of water and sanitation facilities, through health programmes and by supporting camp schools or advocating with the Department of Education to ensure that children can be integrated into local government schools.
Perhaps most importantly of all is UNICEF’s work to advocate with the Government for the provision of land to those who have lost everything during the earthquake, so that they may re-build their homes. In the meantime UNICEF will continue with its presence in the camps to ensure that these vulnerable individuals are enjoying their basic rights until they are resettled in sustainable and safe accommodation.
“I want to be a doctor”, says Aqib. “I want to help people, in particular children in difficult situations”.
Immediately after the earthquake and until now, UNICEF provides protective services through its implementing partners to vulnerable children and their families in the internally displaced people (IDP) camps.
Aqib and Faiza have the support and love of their extended family, and are coping well in a difficult environment, attending local schools and enjoying their time at the child-friendly space in the camp. “I want to be a doctor”, says Aqib. “I want to help people, in particular children in difficult situations”.
Overall, health services revitalized through UNICEF support served the needs of approximately 2.6 million people, which represent 80 per cent of the total population in the quake zone. Services were provided in 55 per cent of health facilities in target districts. UNICEF also supported the vaccination of 1.1 million children aged six months to 15 years against measles.
Among other activities in the field of child protection, UNICEF, in close collaboration with the relevant authorities, has supported the registration and monitoring of 13,400 separated, unaccompanied and orphaned children. It has also provided psycho-social support and safe play environments to over 18,300 children through 122 child-friendly spaces in communities and, until the summer of 2007, in displaced people’s camps.