Monday, July 6, 2009

Tomorrow is too late

Text and photos by Ghazala Minallah

On October 8th 2005 the Pakistani nation rose to the occasion and proved their worth. We all stood as one and tried to ease the pain and suffering of the survivors of that awful calamity. Why is that spirit missing today? Why isn’t every single one of us doing our bit in this hour of desperate need?Why don’t we realize that these poor innocent souls are paying the price for the policies of our successive governments ? They did not leave their homes out of choice; nor did they invite those inhuman scoundrels to shatter the peace of their beautiful valleys; nor did they ever expect that they would be forced to leave their homes in such a hurry that other than the clothes on their backs they would have nothing.
But, my friends , lets forget for the moment why things were allowed to get to this stage in the first place. Lets try to forget for the moment that its always the innocent and helpless who bear the brunt of the blunders of our successive governments. Lets just deal with the present for now , because if we fail them now we are doomed for ever. The IDPs are in a terrible condition, both physically and mentally. The trauma of leaving home at a moment’s notice , leaving their live-stock with no one to care for them, leaving fields full of crops ready to be harvested. Then the agonising journey to safer areas only to find themselves in a seemingly endless dilemma.
A few civil society members, including myself, visited Mardan and Takhtbhai a few days ago. It was an extremely emotional and moving experience, and even though I already felt for these people from the heart , going there , speaking to them and witnessing the problems they are facing with our own eyes was something totally different. We need to understand one thing clearly and that is that the number of refugees inside proper camps is a very small percentage of the entire numbers. Jalala camp near Mardan is the first camp the people fleeing from the war zone arrive at. Jalala has a capacity of 10,000 persons and stopped taking any more IDPs a while ago. The total number of formal camps in the N.W.F.P is 8, all of them having approximately the same capacity. The govt figures as to the umber of displaced persons so far is over 1500,000. So you don’t have to be a genius at maths to work out that there’s A LOT of people out there who are NOT in the camps. These IDP’s are in schools, people’s houses, in empty plots, in under construction buildings, on the roadside, the riverside ,everywhere.Since the donor agencies , such as the UNHCR , only caters for proper camps , and the govt still needs to get its act together, these IDPs are getting nothing from the official sources. This is where all of you out there come in , because they are totally dependent on the generosity of the ordinary public.There is no doubt that a lot of people are doing a lot , but its not enough .The need is huge, endless and beyond anyone’s imagination. I would advise everyone who has the means to go and see for themselves, for seeing is believing.
We walked around Jalala camp, and though apparently it is quite organized and certain basic facilities are available, the problem for those in the tents is the unbearable heat. Without any exaggeration , we could not stand for more than 20 seconds inside a tent. It was absolutely suffocating. Women and young children are the hardest hit since because of ‘purdah’ the tent flaps remain closed , trapping the heat and preventing any fresh air from entering at all. Children were red in the face and many of them were developing rashes and other skin problems. Some were asleep with exhaustion , others were crying and the helpless mothers had no way of comforting them. Diarrhoea, dysentery, chest infections , cholera, heat stroke and other diseases are on the increase. The day that we visited Jalala , we were informed later that three women had died from heat related causes. There must be casualties in other camps too , and this is only the beginning.Unless timely action is taken there is going to be a tremendous loss of life, which could unleash an anger which no govt will be able to control.We then visited the IDPs outside the camps. They were better off as far as exposure to heat is concerned, since most of them were in schools, which meant a roof over their heads and electricity. Their problem was that since they were not registered , they were basically non-entities and were getting NOTHING AT ALL! These are the people who need you NOW! These people from the most beautiful and once peaceful part of our beloved country need every possible help you can think of. The stories they have to tell are horrifying to say the least. One incident is about a woman who was told she had to leave immediately , and she ran and picked up her baby and fled. At some point in the journey she opened the bundle she had picked up and it was only a pillow. I saw a little boy on the news yesterday who was looking for his parents. There are parents who have lost children in the chaos while fleeing. Others have been kidnapped by the Taliban and are being used as human shields. There are still a large number of people trapped in the war zone. They cannot escape because the terrorists have blocked the roads and also because of the curfew. Many do not have any transport, and though many escaped on foot , there are many who were not so lucky. Those trapped are running out of food , as well as patience and faith in this govt. and the army. Compared to the challenges we face as a nation , you might feel you are not able to make a difference. I beg you not to think that way. Everyone and anyone can make a difference if they decide to do so. There’s no time to waste because these people have no time. Lets reach out and hold the hands of the thousands of displaced children or be responsible for nurturing another generation of Taliban.

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