Internally Displaced People in Pakistan

Updates about IDPs from FATA, Swat, Dir and Buner

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Hathian IDP Camps

Posted by Administrator on May 12, 2009

Hathian IDP Camps

On May 12, I accompanied three friends (with significant relief and recovery work experience from the October 2005 earthquake) to the Hathian IDP camps. We were joined by a tribesman from Mohmand, who’s settled in the Punjab, but is fluent with both the area, and the language (Pushto).

Hathian is almost at the foot of the Malakand Division. Its proximity to Malakand means that the less privileged IDPs set up “camp”—due to their lack of resources (both social and fiscal).

To get there, we drove out of Islamabad, up the motorway till we hit Mardan. We then took Malakand Road to Sher Garh, and from there, we hit Hathian. Total driving time was about three and a half hours (3.5). Traffic was not too bad in the afternoon, but as dusk neared it got progressively worse in Mardan.

On May 8th, when the IDPs began to descend upon the area, all of which falls under the Commissioner Mardan, the government announced the closure of schools, and the use of school buildings to shelter the IDPs.

In Hathian, four such schools are under use. The volunteers that have taken charge, and are managing things suggested numbers that ranged from 800 to 1000 families. Our own estimates are around 450 to 600 families.

In total, with average family size between 5.5 and 7, we estimate a total IDP population, in the four school buildings alone, to be anywhere between 2500 to 4200.

The government’s level of support—federal, provincial or district—is limited to the provision of the school building. Volunteers informed us that the Commissioner had announced on the morning of May 12, that all responsibility for the well-being of school property, including furniture, lay with the principals of the schools.

The provincial department for social welfare is leading the registration process, but are almost entirely dependent on the volunteers.

The local government is in disarray, although both the UCs and the district government have put together small ration packages for the affectees.

The access to those packages is controlled by vouchers available from the district government.

Even when affectees get the vouchers (not easy, given total unfamiliarity with the area), voucher-holders have to spend all day standing in line to get the packages.

Bottom-line on government is that food, medicine and education facilities are nowhere to be found.

So who is taking care of these people?

Hathian’s civil society, or as they kept saying, “self-help”. The power and resilience of Pakistan’s community networks have always left me gasping for breath. They did so again in Hathian. Repeated queries about what will happen to the daily wages, or incomes of the volunteers, who seem to be possessed by a spirit of giving, all lead to the same response: “Tomorrow, we could be the ones in need of help!”.

In one school, two doctors are on-call for roughly 20 hours a day in total. Both are under 40, both are volunteers, and neither has any plans of abandoning their new found Swati friends.

The makeup of the IDPs that we met was almost entirely from Swat. Within Swat, a large variety of towns were represented. When we saw teenagers looking on, it was hard not to think that many of Pakistan’s more privileged may have seen these kids years ago, on summer excursions to Kalaam, to Ushu, to Saidu Sharif and to Mingora.

Just because communities work, and society is not completely broken—and indeed, quite robustly intact, doesn’t mean all is well.

Cooked food is a luxury in these camps. So are bedsheets, mattresses, pillows, and soap. Suhaib Kiani, Hassan Sami and Taimur Khan accompanied me to the camp. All four of us, and others will continue to go. Suhaib spent the weekend in Peshawar, getting a sense of what and where the issues were. This camp is probably the tip of the iceberg, and the numbers are most certainly going to increase. Ironically, of all the camps you’ll see on the UN list, this is not one of them. One is desperately hopeful that its the only one. 

More updates as they’re ready.

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