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Taking Refuge in Hell Camp

PESHAWAR, Apr 21 2012 (IPS) - “We have been spending sleepless nights without electricity and clean water. This place is not worth living in but we have no option and will remain here as long as the military operation continues in our area,” said Gul Rahim, a former resident of Bara tehsil in Khyber Agency, currently languishing in the Jallozai refugee camp in the Nowshera district of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Like other children at Pakistan's Jallozai refugee camp, this girl is unable to attend school. Credit:

Like other children at Pakistan's Jallozai refugee camp, this girl is unable to attend school. Credit:

The children fetch water from nearby makeshift tanks, which isn’t drinkable, he says. Rahim and his family are not the lone sufferers in sprawling Jallozai camp, home to thousands just like him who were uprooted by a military campaign against the Taliban in the violence-wracked Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

One of seven agencies that make up FATA, Khyber Agency has been riddled with militancy for the past two years, prompting the government to impose daily curfews in an effort to crush the Taliban in a military operation.

The majority of FATA’s population of 10 million people has been caught in the incessant crossfire between the warring sides.

In early March, the Pakistan army intensified action and asked the residents of Bara tehsil, one of three administrative clusters in Khyber Agency that lies on the border with Afghanistan, to shift to the camp.

“But the camp doesn’t have facilities. People are becoming sick from the bad food provided to us. The weather is becoming too hot and the children are at the receiving end (of the misery),” said Abdul Ghafoor, an elderly resident of the camp who arrived with a family of 12.

Ghafoor, a shopkeeper by profession, is sick of the camp’s management. “There’s nobody to listen to our requests for water and electricity. Even the United Nations agencies have shut their eyes to our needs,” he told IPS.

Concerned for the future of the younger generation, he lamented the fact that children who grow up in an environment of perpetual violence will become “monsters” if immediate action is not taken.

The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) has registered 46,331 displaced families or 201,070 homeless individuals since Mar. 17.

“Some 12,646 families, or 60,204 persons live in the camp while the rest have been residing with relatives or in rented homes but all the displaced persons have been given food and non-food items,” UNHCR’s spokesman Taimur Ahmed Shah told IPS.

Shah says each family was given one tent, a plastic sheet, kitchen set, sleeping mat, jerry can and other household accessories.

The Pakistan Pediatrics Association (PPA) has already expressed concern that children be safeguarded against water and food-borne ailments by providing them clean water and foodstuffs. “Children and (the elderly) are vulnerable to a host of ailments especially respiratory and stomach-related illnesses,” PPA’s Imran Ali told IPS.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that cases of acute respiratory tract infection have been increasing among the internally displaced persons in Jallozai camp.

A report issued on Apr. 18 said that of the 3,212 patients seen at the four health centres in the camp last week, 692 were found to be suffering from acute respiratory tract infection, 225 from acute diarrhoea and 71 from scabies.

The WHO, which is spearheading the health clusters, has been monitoring trends in the camp through a disease early warning system (DEWS) to prevent epidemics, it said.

“Another health centre is being established in view of the influx of IDPs (internally displaced persons),” said WHO’s Anwar Shah. Screening and monitoring malnutrition rates among women and children is also part of the organisation’s intervention, he said.

Measles and polio vaccinations are continuing, to safeguard children from vaccine-preventable diseases, he told IPS. The health agency is also holding awareness sessions to inform IDPs about hygiene, thus preventing avoidable deaths.

Furthermore, on Apr. 16, the WHO established a well-equipped diarrhoea treatment centre (DTC) in nearby Pabbi Satellite Hospital where patients from Jallozai camp are being treated. Three more health posts, in addition to the three already operating in the camp, are being built so as to strengthen the makeshift healthcare system.

Sultana Bibi (60) says that her three grandchildren have been out of school for the past three months due to military operations in her native town of Bara. “I want to educate them as they are very good at (their) studies and want to pursue education at any cost,” she told IPS.

Sadly, most of the children sit idle in the camp the whole day since they cannot get to school, though Shah assured IPS that the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is establishing a school in the camp.

“We have been holding demonstrations in Peshawar, protesting the lack of electricity and water but (got) no response,” said 29-year-old Muhammad Zaheer, a resident of Bara, who is desperate to see an end to the military operation so he can return home.

Now markets, schools and hospitals are closed due to curfew, leaving civilians caught between the army and Taliban “miscreants. Both are the enemies of the displaced people, all of whom have lost their jobs and are becoming beggars,” Zaheer said resentfully.

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