Aid for children and families displaced by fighting in Pakistan’s Swat Valley

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© UNICEF Pakistan/2009/Paradela
The majority of those displaced by fighting in north-west Pakistan are children and women.

By Antonia Paradela

JALALA CAMP, Pakistan, 11 May 2009 – Kiyanet, a 10-year-old girl, walked with determination among groups of men waiting for aid distribution. Nearby, newly arrived families, sweaty and covered in dust, tried to register at this camp for the displaced in north-west Pakistan’s Mardan district.

They came from the neighbouring district of Swat, where an army offensive against militants has provoked the exodus of tens of thousands of people.

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According to UNICEF Deputy Representative in Pakistan Luc Chauvin, the UN refugee agency estimates that 360,000 people have been newly displaced in the current military operations in the Swat Valley. Those fleeing the latest escalation of hostilities join 555,000 previously displaced Pakistanis who have left their homes in North West Frontier Province and tribal areas since August 2008 and are living in camps and host communities.

‘I thought I would die’
On her walk through Jalala camp, Kiyanet was looking for floor mats. Her family received a tent but they were still sitting on the earth, crushing the stumps of plants in what was only recently farmland. Jalala camp is just a few days old.

The family had arrived the previous afternoon. Mascun Akhtar, Kiyanet’s mother, fled with her six children to Mardan after their house was damaged in the fighting. Her husband, a driver, had left earlier to evacuate his employer's family.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Pakistan/2009/Paradela
Kiyanet, 10, feared she was going to die when her family’s home got caught in the crossfire. The family fled to a camp for the displaced.

“I was so scared of the bombing that I used to hide in the toilet,” recalled Kiyanet. “I thought I would die.”

When her family’s house was hit by mortar shells, Kiyanet left her hiding place, fell on the floor and injured her face. Everyone in the village had to flee.

Children in urgent need
Displaced by ongoing fighting in Swat, Lower Dir and Buner districts, hundreds of families like Kiyanet’s continue to arrive in Jalala and other camps every day. More than half of those displaced are children in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

"Fleeing uncertainty, violence and terror, many of these newly displaced families have arrived with nothing but the clothes on their backs," said the UNICEF Representative in Pakistan Martin Mogwanja.

"It is imperative to respond promptly so that these thousands of children have the health, sanitation, support and education services they need," he added.

Coordinated UN response
UNICEF and its partners are part of a coordinated UN response to ensure that displaced children have access to water and sanitation, immunization and schooling, as well as protection from abuse or exploitation.

In the wake of the latest wave of displacement, UNICEF is providing water tankers and latrines in three new camps. It is also monitoring unaccompanied and orphaned children, and households headed by women, such as Kiyanet's. In addition, the agency is supporting teams that have vaccinated more than 10,000 children against polio at transit points.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Pakistan/2009/Paradela
UNICEF is providing water to the camps for newly displaced families in conflict-affected areas of north-west Pakistan.

In an effort to bring normalcy to children’s lives, UNICEF is also helping to establish three primary schools and provide school supplies in two new camps for the displaced.

More support needed
For now, Kiyanet said she was happy at the camp, compared to the situation she and her family faced in their home village. But more support will be needed to meet the immediate needs of newly displaced families like hers and to maintain ongoing activities for those previously displaced.

Pending the issuance of a new inter-agency UN appeal, UNICEF is urgently appealing for $10 million in emergency funding for the crisis response in north-west Pakistan.


 

 

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11 May 2009: UNICEF Deputy Representative in Pakistan Luc Chauvin discusses the displacement crisis in north-west Pakistan.
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