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Assisting children displaced by fighting in Pakistan’s Swat valley

© UNICEF/Pak2009/Paradela
The majority of those displaced by fighting in north-west Pakistan are children and women

By Antonia Paradela

JALALA CAMP, Mardan District, Pakistan, May 2009 – Kiyanet, a ten-year-old girl, walks with determination among groups of men waiting for distributions. In one area, newly arrived families, sweaty and covered in dust, try to register in the camp. They have just come from the neighbouring district of Swat where an army offensive against militants has provoked the exodus of thousands of people. Kiyanet is here looking for floor mats. Her family has received a tent but they are still sitting on the earth, crushing the stumps of plants of what was only recently an agricultural field. Jalala Camp is barely a few days old.

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

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

“I was so scared of the bombing that I used to hide in the toilet,” remembers Kiyanet. “I thought I would die.” When the house was hit by mortar shells, Kiyanet left her hiding place, fell on the floor and injured the right side of her face. All the inhabitants of the village left with Kiyanet's family.

Kiyanet's family are amongst 360,000 people who have been displaced by ongoing fighting in Swat, Lower Dir and Buner Districts in the past week. They join the 555,000 who had already been registered as Internally Displaced People (IDPs) by the end of March 2009. Hundreds of families continue to arrive to camps like Jalala every day.  More than half of those displaced are children and need urgent 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 Country Representative for 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 to save lives and ensure wellbeing in such difficult circumstances."

UNICEF and its partners are working as part of a coordinated UN response to ensure that displaced children have access to water and sanitation, vaccinations, education, as well as protection from abuse or exploitation. As part of its response to the latest wave of displaced families, the children’s agency is providing water tankering and building latrines in three new camps, monitoring unaccompanied and orphaned children and households headed by women, such as Kiyanet's. UNICEF is also supporting teams which have vaccinated more than 10,000 children against polio at transit points.

© UNICEF/Pak2009/Paradela
UNICEF is providing water to the camps for newly displaced families

In addition, to bring normalcy to children’s lives, UNICEF is assisting the establishment of three primary schools and provision of school supplies in the two new IDP camps.

Kiyanet used to attend Grade 4 in the local primary school, in a province where only four out of ten girls are enrolled in primary education. But she could not continue her education as troops occupied the school building. “I am happy here in the camp,” she says, recalling the trauma of the past days. 

Pending the issuance of a new inter-agency appeal next week and in order to continue supporting the immediate needs of the newly displaced children and to continue ongoing activities for the 555,000 pre-existing IDPs, UNICEF is urgently requesting US$ 10 million dollars.



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