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Heat, disease, snakes hound IDPs in Jalala camp

People continue to pour into cities from the conflict-affected areas of northwest
(Tariq Saeed/IRIN)

Izzat Khan, 36, a farmer from Shamozai village in Pakistan’s troubled Swat Valley, is taking refuge in Jalala camp, Mardan District, North West Frontier Province (NFWP), along with his wife and 11 children.

Mardan, about 70km northwest of Peshawar, capital of the NWFP, is the first place those fleeing volatile areas like Buner, Swat and Lower Dir come to, and the government has established three camps in the district - Jalala, Sheikh Yasin and Sheikh Shahzad.

Arriving in Jalala by rickshaw, car, small truck or bus, most internally displaced persons (IDPs) carry little more than the clothes on their backs, according to a statement by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) on 18 May.

The number of IDPs is going up by the hour as more people take advantage of an easing of curfew restrictions.

UN refugee chief António Guterres ended a three-day visit to Pakistan on 16-17 May after calling for urgent and massive international help for more than 1.17 million people uprooted by fighting in the northwest. 

More on Pakistan conflict
Female IDPs struggle in unfamiliar settings
IDP host families take the strain
Sikhs flee Swat, seek refuge in shrine 
IDP children out of school, obliged to work

Izzat Khan was among the thousands who left Swat a week ago. “We walked half way, almost one whole day without food and water and then fortunately someone gave us a ride on a truck,” he said.

He does not expect anything from the government but just wants his home to be free of militants. “I’d be the happiest person if I could just go back,” he said.

“Awful” conditions in Jalala camp

According to IDPs in Jalala, the camp contains some 1,700 families, and conditions are “awful”. “It’s very hot and we are not used to this heat,” said Sher Bahadur Khan, 24. “Sitting in tents is like being in a `tandoor’ [clay oven].”

Despite the heat, he said, women had no choice but to remain cooped up inside as they observed `purdah’ (seclusion).

“Because they have to remain in tents, the majority of women and children are suffering from scabies, diarrhoea and high fever,” he said, adding that toilets and water were far away, so women could not bathe enough.

“There is not enough water; the toilets are in a terrible state and food is always short,” said Bahadur Khan.

Taimur Shah, 18, another IDP, said that while wheat was being distributed “we cannot grind it into flour.”

Aid workers hand out ice to IDPs in Jalala camp, Mardan District, North West Frontier Province (NFWP)

Aid workers hand out ice to IDPs in Jalala camp, Mardan District, North West Frontier Province (NFWP)
Shabbir Hussain Imam/IRIN
Aid workers hand out ice to IDPs in Jalala camp, Mardan District, North West Frontier Province (NFWP)
Monday, May 18, 2009
Heat, disease, snakes hound IDPs in Jalala camp
Aid workers hand out ice to IDPs in Jalala camp, Mardan District, North West Frontier Province (NFWP)

Photo: Shabbir Hussain Imam/IRIN
Aid workers hand out ice to IDPs in Jalala camp, Mardan District, North West Frontier Province (NFWP)

No one to harvest wheat crop

Fazal Naeem, aged 48 and principal of Shaheen Public School in Swat, currently lives in Mardan with relatives. He visits all three camps in Mardan to get the latest update on those who remain in Swat, the conditions faced by IDPs and to see if he can help in any way.

He said the timing of the army operation was wrong. “Most college students lost a valuable academic year after their exams were cancelled. And this was harvest time in Swat and Buner. The crop is standing but no one is there to harvest it,” he said.

Izzat Khan agreed, saying the wheat crop on his 0.8 hectare plot was ready to be harvested, just as they were forced to flee. “The loss is huge, but if it is the price to pay to get rid of the miscreants who have given Islam a bad name, I am willing to sacrifice even that,” he said. However, he is worried about his mother who is still in Swat. “Someone had to stay to feed the livestock.”

Many IDPs, whilst not against the army operation, are asking: “If it was imminent, why was there no contingency plan for the IDPs?”

IDP camps in Pakistan

Disease threat, snakes

Naeem feared if the weather got any worse and the sanitary conditions did not improve in the camps, there could be outbreaks of diseases. “It’s very, very hot and these mountain people are not used to the heat in the plains. Many may not survive June and July, when temperatures may rise further,” he said.

But if the days are bad, the nights are even worse. “We hardly sleep, because of the fear of snakes, rats and scorpions,” said Taimur Shah. “Because there is no light in the night and it is pitch dark, people often enter the wrong tents and that causes much discomfort for women observing `purdah’. Then women cannot go and relieve themselves or take the young ones to the toilet because they fear stepping on snakes.”

Mosquitoes exacerbate their woes. The place seems to be the perfect breeding ground for them, said Shah.

“It would help to have electricity and fans in the camps,” said Shah.

Meanwhile, the chief minister of NWFP, Ameer Haidar Hoti, has promised electrification of every tent at Jalala camp and 10,000 fans.

According to the English language daily, The News, President Asif Ali Zardari has announced an emergency relief package to support IDPs.

Under the programme, 6,100 families in the camps would get help and over Rs 10 million (US$1.23 million) has been placed at the disposal of the Pakistan Post Office Department for distribution to the IDPs. Over 6,000 IDP families staying outside the camps would also get help.

“I do not believe a word these people promise us,” said Izzat Khan. “They come in their air-conditioned jeeps, promise us the world, but then - nothing,” he said.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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