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Displaced families face humanitarian crisis in north-western Pakistan camps

© AP Photo/Baker
A boy waits in line with his father to get food at a UNICEF-assisted camp in Swabi, northwestern Pakistan, where thousands have fled fighting between government forces and militants.

Antonia Paradela and Elizabeth Kiem

NEW YORK, USA, 15 May 2009 – Less than two weeks into a military incursion that has caused massive displacement in north-western Pakistan’s Swat Valley, even more children and families are struggling to find safe shelter in camps.

Despite continued humanitarian efforts, the needs are overwhelming and the situation is becoming desperate. According to UNICEF Deputy Representative in Pakistan Luc Chauvan, some $57 million is needed to aid the rapidly growing displaced population.

Aid workers estimate that more than half of the homeless are children.

UNICEF’s work in camps

Jalala, one of the largest of the new camps for the displaced, is already at full capacity with 11,000 residents and more families needing shelter outside the camp.

UNICEF is supporting health workers’ efforts to vaccinate children in Jalala camp against polio and measles, and has provided supplies to help set up schools for 1,600 children.

Many of the families in the camp arrived with few or no possessions. The children are particularly affected by the violence they have fled. Child-protection teams are monitoring unaccompanied or orphaned children and providing them with psychosocial support.

Health and education suffer

Gullmina, a mother from Swat province who sat in the camp surrounded by her children, repeated a common refrain.

“We are helpless,” she said. “It is very hot in the tents. Children’s health has been affected badly. Their education has also suffered. We desperately want to go back home.”

Pakistani women, burdened by the scarcity of safe water and sanitation facilities, are particularly unprepared for the lack of privacy in these camps. Many have taken refuge with friends or relatives, accepting shelter in public camps as a last resort.

‘Let us go back to our land’

Ahmad Hilal is living in Jilal camp with his entire extended family, including 10 nephews and nieces. He fled his home under shelling and has no other relatives to stay with. His plea was plaintive.

“What is our sin? What wrong have these children done?” he asked. “Whoever is responsible for this, we appeal and request them to forgive us in Allah’s name and let us go back to our land.”

The displaced in Jalala represent just a small fraction of the total displaced population in the region. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands are still trapped in the conflict zone without access to medical care and other essential services.



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