Pakistan: displaced people face social upheaval
Fighting between government forces and the armed opposition continues in the region bordering Afghanistan. Civilians are paying a heavy price. The ICRC’s Sitara Jabeen reports on the cultural and social challenges facing displaced people on the Pakistani/Afghan border.
The seven agencies of the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) lie in Pakistan, along the border with Afghanistan. Here, the mountains alternate between lush green and barren brown, providing a backdrop to what has traditionally been a peaceful culture. The valley of Swat is known as the “Switzerland of Asia,” renowned for its beautiful weather and vibrant culture. For these hospitable but proud people, with their culture steeped in ancient tradition, adapting to life in a camp for displaced persons can be hard.For a map of the area, see ReliefWeb’s map Pakistan: Floods and IDPs (as of 5 Sep 2008) . Sticking it out in Swat – tough times for those who stay
Food shortages are creating their share of problems. Economic life has come to a standstill, with shops closed and market deliveries halted. Local residents are dependent on external support for food, medicines and other basic items. Traditionally, the residents of Swat have been well-off, and this unexpected dependency is both an affront to their dignity and a source of low morale. People who were enjoying a high standard of living until recently are scraping to find basic food and shelter for their children.
Fleeing Bajaur – tough times for those who leave
Bajaur is one of the agencies that make up the FATA. Over 200,000 displaced persons from Bajaur are staying in relief camps in North West Frontier Province.
Most of these people fle d their homes on 10 August as the conflict intensified. They had no time to collect any possessions, and are completely dependent on aid. Temperatures are in the forties, making hygiene conditions in the crowded camps even worse.
One problem with living in camps is that people in this region are used to houses segregated strictly on gender lines. It is forbidden for women to be seen by males other than their close relatives, so living in tents has a major impact on civic life and daily routine. In their homes, women can put aside their veils in the absence of male strangers. Here in the camps, where men could see them at any time, they have to remain covered from head to toe 24 hours a day. This makes washing impossible. According to Wasif, a senior ICRC field officer who has been distributing relief goods in the camps, “These women have been unable to wash their hands and faces for over ten days.”
Wasif knows and respects the people of the region: “Their social norms remain strong. They are the most hospitable people in the country and will offer you whatever they have, even if it’s only a cup of water. You’re always their guest. But you have to be careful, because if they feel that their self-esteem is being infringed, or that cultural values are being ignored, they can get pretty angry.
The ICRC has been working on both sides of the border, so many of the displaced people know the organization. It’s always a pleasure for field workers when people welcome us.”
The peaceful past of the Swat and FATA may be a rapidly fading memory, but its people long to return to normal life. What is needed now is a comprehensive response. This means not just meeting material needs but enabling these people to regain their dignity.