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Pakistan: helping villagers go home

05-08-2004 Feature

Going home after being forced to flee during the course of an armed conflict is an intensely emotional experience. It is also very hard work which is why the ICRC offers assistance to help people get back on their feet.


Villagers returning home to Gultari.©ICRC 
Villagers in Pakistan's Northern Areas are returning to their homes increasingly confident that last November's ceasefire that ended the military stand-off with India is holding up. However, the exchange of fire has had a considerable impact, especially in the Gultari area.
Many of those displaced by the confrontation between India and Pakistan in 2002 have been living in camps in the area of Skardu, eking out a meagre daily wage to feed their families. As the winter snows melted many were ready to return home to resume their lives.
However, going back was no easy undertaking. Gultari is only accessible between July and October and nature, as well as the fighting, had taken its toll on their homes while the villagers had been absent. With neither shelter, nor food, the ICRC offered a two-month assistance programme so that villagers could return and become self-reliant before the onset of winter.
An ICRC team, supported by the civil authorities, carried out the distribution effort over three days in late July visiting several villages. The journey was enough to make the most hardened ICRC employee blanch with the steep mountain roads giving way to a treacherous drop into the river Indus.  
Villagers receive aid to help them over the winter.©ICRC 
The trip proved more than worthwhile, however, with villagers who'd already made the return from Skardu providing a warm welcome.
Over the next three days, the ICRC distributed more than 75,000 kilogrammes of relief aid, including wheat, lentils, sugar and cooking oil. Pressure cookers were also delivered. In all, around 300 families, mainly in Gultar, but also in Kunar and Bunyal, benefited from this assistance.
Many of the villagers were still living in tents when the ICRC trucks arrived since their homes were still not in a fit condition to live.
But one resident in the village of Chota Das explained how important the aid was.
" We will bear these hardships, " said the man, " We are glad to be back where we belong. We are happy that the ICRC and the civil administration have joined hands to take care of our rations so that we do not have to worry about food and can concentrate on rebuilding our houses and starting to become self-sufficient. "