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Children who stayed behind in conflict-affected areas need support

© UNICEF/Pak09/Grusovin
Maryam, 12 years old, who stayed behind in Swat with her father and grandmother during recent military operations.

By Shandana Aurangzeb Durrani

MINGORA, Pakistan, 10 August 2009 – At the newly reopened Mingora Central Hospital, 16-year-old Maryam huddles close to her elderly grandmother Musakhel.

In late May, the government of Mingora ordered the local population to leave their homes.

Maryam’s family fled, but Maryam was left behind in the village with her grandmother and father throughout two months of conflict.

With the Swat District emptied of most of its population, their village became infested with feral dogs prowling the streets until army personnel put them to sleep.

“My grandmother would not let me go out because she was scared that the dogs would eat me,” she said as her eyes filled with tears. 

Mental and physical distress

Ghafoorzada recalls her mother-in-law Musakhel's accounts of the fear they endured, lying awake night after night, too scared to sleep because of the roar of the shelling.

The mental and physical health of those who remained behind was affected. Health services were non-existent and 11 per cent of schools were damaged or destroyed, including a quarter of girls' primary schools.

“There was such intense shelling over our village that I was sure that we would be killed. I still cannot believe that we have survived all this,” says Musakhel.

© UNICEF/Pak09/Grusovin
Maryam, 12-years-old, and her grandmother who were left behind in their village throughout two months of conflict.

Those who stayed behind during the conflict had no electricity or water and had to live under a strict, continual curfew. There was little to eat and families had to rely on home-grown vegetables and whatever they had stockpiled before the conflict intensified.

“My father would collect dry leaves and sticks to build a fire for cooking. I had to walk far to get water from the spring,” Maryam recalls.

Tears well in her mother's eyes as she adds: “My daughter has lost so much weight. When I returned from Mardan I could not recognise her.”

Life returning to normal

Several hundred thousand people have returned home to Swat and Buner Districts since 13 July. By 7 August, more than 760,000 people had returned to Swat and Bruner. Approximately 1.3 million remain displaced.

UNICEF is supporting the restoration of health, nutrition and education services, restoring water and sanitation systems and creating protective systems for returning children. To fund support for displaced and returning children, UNICEF has requested 53 million dollars, of which 40 million has been received.

Recently, Maryam returned to school after six months awawy. She is thrilled to be back.

“I was so happy to see my teacher and some of my friends!" she said. "Now I can play with my friends again and we can study together.”



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