|Returning families walk past closed shops and other buildings on a street in the city of Mingora in Swat District in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province.|
By Shandana Aurangzeb Durrani
MINGORA, Pakistan, 13 August 2009 – Taj Meena, a mother of ten, hails from a small village in the beautiful Marguzar Valley, once a popular tourist haven in the Swat District of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province. When conflict began in April, her family, unlike thousands of others, chose to stay.
Because Taj Meena and her husband leased land, the large family did not have the resources to leave. But staying during the more than two months of conflict came with a price.
“We have been through very difficult times, surviving on boiled spinach for days,” Taj Meena said. “My children’s health has suffered severely and they have lost a lot of weight, as it was extremely difficult to get food.”
Today, she is at the Mingora Central Hospital with her two youngest daughters, Marva, 4, and 18-month-old Syma, who have been admitted with acute watery diarrhoea and skin infections.
“I was so happy when the hospital opened and we brought the children here. They are much better now,” Taj Meena said.
Other families who were trapped in the conflict zones faced extreme hardships as well.
Jamila Gul Sher is a mother of six, including Hamdan, age three, who has been mentally and physically disabled since birth.
"Initially we went to Lahore for a month, but had to return as Hamdan was seriously ill and could not bear the severe heat of the plains,” she said.
Jamila’s husband, Gul Sher, who had a prosperous business in Mingora before the conflict, decided to return with his family in June while the conflict was still raging. He simply could not afford to keep his family in Lahore, and he is still struggling financially.
“Food supplies are available in the market now, but we have no cash to buy them," Jamila said. "Today my children went to school without breakfast, as we had no wheat flour. My husband and I are under a lot of stress as we are unable to provide for our children. We do not know how to rebuild our lives again.”
Free outpatient services
“As the situation improves in the valley, families are able to access healthcare services, especially women and children,” explained the head of the paediatric unit at Mingora Central Hospital Dr. Ali Jan. “However, we have limited capacity to deal with such a huge influx of patients.”
The hospital is providing free outpatient services to around sixteen hundred patients daily.
|© UNICEF Pakistan/2009/Grusovin|
|Hamdan,age three, who has been mentally and physically disabled since birth, with his mother Jamila Gul Sher at Central Hospital Mingora.|
“The number of patients is likely to go up as people return from the plains, and those who stayed behind get access to the hospital,” said Medical Superintendent Dr. Noor Afridi. “The needs are as great as the numbers. Two years of unabated conflict has had a grave impact on the health and nutritional status of families, especially on women and young children.”
Recovery work ongoing
Educational facilities were hit hard by the conflict, with 150 schools either damaged or destroyed in Swat. Schools reopened on 1 August, but most are holding classes in the open, or in tents or makeshift shelters. Rebuilding the educational infrastructure is an urgent priority.
As peace slowly returns to Swat, there is a great demand for basic services, both from the families who stayed behind and from those who are returning from the plains.
There is a critical need for support for the currently under-funded early recovery work that is ongoing in these areas.
In response to this need, UNICEF has requested 53 million dollars to support early recovery work, including the re-establishment of damaged and destroyed water supply systems, the provision of basic health and education services and the protection of children.
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