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Children affected by conflict in north-west Pakistan desperately need relief aid

By Shandana Aurangzeb Durrani

NAHAQI, Pakistan, 11 March 2011 – “It is extremely difficult to stay here,” says Gulmina, 14, as she fights back tears. “It’s very cold and I want to go back home.”

VIDEO: 26 February 2011 - UNICEF correspondent Priyanka Pruthi reports on the new wave of children displaced by the conflict in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of northwest Pakistan.  Watch in RealPlayer


Gulmina is staying at a temporary camp in Nahaqi in Mohmand Agency, a district in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of northwest Pakistan. In the past few weeks, more than 4,000 families have been displaced as a result of recent fighting between troops and militants in the region.

Gulmina and her five brothers were forced to leave their home, the village of Sagai on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, a couple of weeks ago. “Things were very bad in the village – there was intense shelling and we had to leave,’’ says Gulmina’s eldest brother, Anwar, 15.

He says he’s finding it difficult to look after his siblings, and wants to return home to their mother, who stayed behind to guard their home and livestock. “We feel miserable,” Anwar says. Their father, Mohammad, is missing.

Displaced and suffering

Like Gulmina and her brothers, many of those who have been displaced are unaccompanied children and women-headed households. Ms. Mandajo, an elderly woman from Eenzai Miangano, another village in the district, arrived at the camp three weeks ago with her orphaned grandchildren. Her widowed daughter and eldest son stayed behind to look after the family home.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2011
Thousands of children displaced by conflict in the tribal district of Mohmand Agency, north-west Pakistan, have found shelter at the Nahaqi camp.

She is worried about the health of her grandchildren. “Children are suffering because of the extreme cold,” she says. “During heavy rains a few days back, two children died in the camp.”

Even before the conflict began in FATA in 2008, the region had poor socio-economic indicators. Infant and maternal mortality rates are much higher than the national average and a third of children under the age of five suffer malnutrition.

The fighting has only worsened the situation. Overall, about 41 per cent of the population has access to improved drinking water sources and only 28 per cent of households use hygienic sanitation facilities. As a result, there has been an alarming increase in the number of polio cases.  Out of a total of 144 polio cases in Pakistan in 2010, 74 were from FATA.

“People in this area have seen very difficult situations,” says UNICEF FATA Specialist Dr. Muhammad Rafiq. “The conflict has made their life worse.”

Vaccination campaign

UN agencies, including UNICEF and partners, are responding to these needs. UNICEF-supported vaccination campaigns are immunizing many children for the first time.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2011
UNICEF is supplying education kits – including notebooks, stationery, floor mats, and winterized tents – to strengthen existing school services in the area and has set up temporary learning spaces in Nahaqi camp in Mohmand Agency, Pakistan.

So far, nearly 16,000 children in Mohmand Agency have been vaccinated against measles and almost 9,000 against polio. Ante-natal and post-natal services, as well as critical health and nutrition messages, have benefited about 1,500 women.

Educational supplies – notebooks, stationery, floor mats, water coolers and winterized tents – are being provided to strengthen existing school services in the conflict-affected areas.  At the Nahaqi camp, UNICEF has helped set up latrines and washing facilities, benefiting nearly 44,000 people. Temporary learning spaces are also now in place.

Critical funds needed

Six Child Protection Committees have also been established at Nahaqi and a nearby camp in Danishkol, and are supporting Child Protection Monitors in identifying and assessing vulnerable children.

However, there is an immediate need for more water, shelter, health and sanitation facilities, as well as food, warm clothes and blankets.

“These people are in dire need of social services,” says Dr. Rafiq. “We request humanitarian actors to play their role to provide social services not only in camps, but also in their areas of return.”



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