The Plight Of The IDPs Of Waziristan

Source: The Express Tribune

Source: The Express Tribune

With the holy month of Ramadan in progression, one can’t help but wonder how the North Waziristan internally displaced people (IDPs) are able to cope and keep up with this sacred ritual of fasting, in view of their current bleak situation, especially considering the sheer scarcity of food, shelter, health and sanitation. Facing utmost despondency, the IDPs have been forced into a life of suffering and despair, while trying to survive under the most dismal of conditions deemed possible. Even more distressing is the fact that these poor people are almost ignored in the media, given very little coverage and acknowledgement, and where outsiders are failing to realize just how deeply harrowing their — the IDPs — situation is. These are people who have been forced to leave their homes — their comfortable dwellings — in order to make a living in sordid camps, just to survive a war that has unjustly swept the region, and taken over their lives, causing nothing but misery and chaos.

According to the FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA), more than 350,000 people have been forced to leave their homes in North Waziristan, fleeing to safer areas, ever since the military operation against Taliban militants began and escalated a few months ago. This military operation was further exacerbated when the army officially launched the Zarb-e-Azb Operation on June 14 (of this year) as an attempt to fight against militant groups such as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). And this was launched shortly after the attack on Karachi’s International airport that took place on June 8th, 2014.

No doubt the life of an IDP is extremely difficult. And whatever little coverage we read or hear about in the media is not enough to understand how utterly dire their situation is. These are people who have hastily fled their homes, packing up whatever little belongings they had using mere pillow cases and bed sheets, and migrated from one town/city to another, in hopes to find refuge from the war that has been forcefully inflicted upon them. And while some towns/cities have been welcoming, others have not, leaving these poor IDPs no choice but to stay and make a living in unsafe and unhygienic refugee camps.

However, this isn’t the first that the people of Waziristan have suffered war and turmoil, forcing them to evict their homes to find refuge and peace elsewhere. Back in 2009, South Waziristan had also suffered violent conflicts between army forces and the Taliban, which resulted in great mayhem and destruction. Further, the displaced people from South Waziristan, like the ones currently from the North, also faced severe limitations in terms of food, health, safety and security.

So, you, as my reader, must me wondering why I am revisiting and comparing the IDP situation that occurred five years ago to the current situation of the IDPs in North Waziristan. Well, I’ll tell you exactly why. A few weeks ago, I was very fortunate to receive a message in my public email inbox (sesapzai@gmail.com) from a Pashtun PhD student by the name of Shahid Khan Marwat. In his email, Shahid informed me that he found my email through my blog, which he found very interesting, and requested my feedback and input with regards to the topic of his current PhD research. He also was very kind enough to share excerpts from his Master’s thesis titled, “Health Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons of South Waziristan Agency in Camps and Host Community: A Comparative Analysis.” Needless to say, I was much honoured and obliged that this person, who didn’t know me at all, was kind enough to not only take the time to read my blog and email me, but also to share excellent excerpts from a very, very important research that he had done a few years ago.

More importantly, (and this brings me back to why I feel it is important to revisit the IDP situation that occurred back in 2009) when Shahid was conducting this research, he actually interviewed internally displaced people from South Waziristan — both men and women alike. The interviews were conducted in questionnaire format, and gives the reader a deeper, closer and more intimate look into the lives of these IDPs. For, like I said earlier, it’s easy to read or hear about the IDP plight in the media, where things may or may not be as true or as accurate, and which is often soon forgotten because most of us don’t exactly know or realize just how much these people are suffering. Yet, on the other hand, it is indeed a totally different story when you read actual interviews about these people and hear their plight from their — not anyone else’s — point of view. Not only does it make the situation more real and daunting, but it definitely puts things into a whole different, and more vivid, perspective.

Anyway, with Shahid’s permission, below is an excerpt from the Executive Summary of his thesis:

This study found that in the situation where government and international community was not interested to help them out during displacement, IDPs relied more on their level of social capital and economic status. Those IDPs who could afford a house or had found help from their relatives, fellow tribesmen or friends joined host community but those IDPs who were poor and unable to find any help regarding shelter, loan or food, were left with only one choice that is to join IDPs camp.

The health needs of IDPs were already heightened due to war trauma and were further worsened due to the situation of accommodation, water & sanitation, weather and overcrowding in camp; widening the gap between their health needs and health care availability. On the other hand, IDPs living in host community were free to avail the private and public health services lessening the gap between their health needs and health care availability.

It also found out that IDPs living in camps were more affected by health problems as compared to IDPs living in host community. Where, IDPs in camp were offered inadequate health facilities and were not allowed to visit Tank city for medical treatment even during emergencies causing many deaths, especially among pregnant women.

Moreover, children and old age people were most affected among many age groups while women in reproductive ages suffered more as compared to men. Even the basic mother and child health facilities related to pregnancy and neonatal health care were not incorporated in IDPs camp. Although IDPs were affected by mental stress as much as physical one but psychiatric help was totally absent in camps as well as in host communities.

Based on the results of this study, the thesis provides recommendations for the health sector reform in the areas that receive the IDPs. Like the fieldwork found that local health department in Tank was not capable to handle huge number of IDPs on its own and the study recommends international community’s health related interventions to deal with the situation. It further recommends that livelihood and shelter related issues of IDPs should be addressed legislatively and also recommends that there is a need to study IDPs situation in other agencies as well to prepare a comprehensive policy document for IDPs of FATA.

Shahid was also very kind enough to share some of the interviews he did with the IDPs from South Waziristan. You, too, can read these below:

Note: Reader discretion is advised as some of these interviews are a little emotionally painful to read.

IDPs Camp Interview #1 — Widowed woman, household head; 50-years-old

Q. Tell me how you and your family arrived in this temporary accommodation?

– When security forces occupied our village, they forced us to vacate our houses. We did not want to shift anywhere from our village but they put us in one vehicle and send us to this camp.

Q.  Why did you not want to escape war when it was too intense in South Waziristan?

– Look, we have already lost most of our men in war with security forces. I am left with responsibility of three young women and few children. We have been bankrupted financially and emotionally. Only thing that is important for me is my village having graves of my sons and husband.

Q.  Did your all family dislocated together?

– Yes, I migrated along with whoever is left alive.

Q. Do you all live together in this camp?

– Yes, we live here together.

Q.  I guess you are not happy in this camp because you miss your village so much but are there anything that could be made better to provide you ease and comfort here?

– Build small houses for us having basic water & sanitation and cooking facilities. We feel restlessness and disgust to live in tents; it is against our values and culture.  Just try to make us free of these security check posts at least. We are free people and cannot live in so many restrictions of movements.

Q. Do you get food easily?

– No, getting food is very tough due to long queues and due to absence of adult male in my household. So I hire a man for 500 rupees to stand in queues and get us ration.

Q. What is your total monthly income?

– I am a housewife with my both sons and husband dead and hence no monthly income.

Q. How it becomes possible to live a life without any income?

– I sell out jewelry whenever I need money to fulfill my household responsibilities.

Q. Did any among your Relatives, Friends, tribal men, political parties or host community helped you during displacement?

– Our relatives and friends are in Karachi and unable to help us but fellow tribal men helped us a bit by sending us food and other things from Tank city. Political parties have not helped us as well.

Q.  Has anybody fallen ill in your household during living in camp?

– Yes, flu, cough and scabies are few big problems for us from last couple of days.

Q.  Are you people provided any medical treatment here?

– Not yet, Mobile clinic has still to come, it comes once a week and my grandson is suffering from fever since last five days.

Q.  Why it comes only once a week or after two weeks?

– Medical staff says we have permission from District health officer only for one day in a week. While DHO says that they are short of medical staff and medicines and security forces also want us to send it only once in a week due to security reasons.

Q.  Did any NGO come for medical help?

– Yes they came but rarely and we cannot get any benefit from them.

Q.  Why they came so rarely?

– Everyone is worried about security situation which is only a pretext. Situation around this IDPs camp is quite peaceful and they should come and provide us help. But security forces do not want anyone to lend us any help.

Q.  Are you satisfied with medication provided?

– Yes, it is satisfactory.

Q.  Has anyone died in your household during your stay in IDPs camp?

– No.

Q. Have any women given birth to a child during living in this camp?

– No.

Q.  I just knew that you and your family has suffered a lot during armed conflict and during living in this camp, would you like to let me know if anybody is suffering from mental stress in your household?

– Yes, my 10-year-old son has become a victim of horrible dreams and is weeping all the time remembering his father and uncles. Me and my two daughters-in-law are unable to eat well and are victims of over-thinking. My youngest daughter-in-law, whose husband was killed by security forces just after three days of her marriage does not talk to anyone and is very weak physically due to eating disorder.

Q.  Did you or anybody consulted with any psychiatrist to get rid of this mental stress?

– Psychiatrist is not needed. It is only an examination from God and we will be good once again. I have brought a mullet for my grandson and daughter-in-law from Molvi sahib.

Q.  What is biggest health issue in your household now?

– Mental stress is biggest health issue in my household.

Q.  What could be the most suitable way to get rid of this mental stress?

– If we get back to our hometown and security forces withdraw from our village.

Q.  How getting back to home and withdrawal of security forces can get you out of this mental stress?

– Look, all these tensions are here because we are away from our hometown and security forces have forcefully captured South Waziristan. Unless they (Security Forces) move aside from our eyes, our wounds cannot be healed.

 

IDPs Camp Interview #2 — Woman, household head; 72-years-old

Q. Tell me how you and your family arrived in this temporary accommodation?

– I along with my two grandchildren arrived first in Tank in our relative’s house from Ladha but as soon as IDPs camp was established we shifted into it.

Q.  Why did you stay in Tank and not gone further to other big cities?

– We are not accompanied by male family members and only have relatives in Tank.

Q.  Did your all family dislocated together?

– Yes I migrated along with my three grandchildren and that is what I was left with.

Q. You are 72 years old and taking care of two children as well, it would be very difficult for you. How do you manage it?

– Yes it was very hard but God has given me the strength to take care these two orphans. Besides, IDPs living near us cooks our food on daily basis and men also help us in illness and other difficult times.

Q.  Do have any monthly income?

– No.

Q.  How do you manage your living?

– I sell out extra ration that I get from WFP almost up to 3000 rupees per month to manage my household living.

Q. Do you get food easily?

– No, getting food is very tough but every one gives me a favor because I am too old to wait for ration.

Q. Did any among your relatives, friends, tribal men, political parties; host community help you during displacement?

– Yes I got help from all peoples except political parties.

Q.  Has anybody fallen ill in your household?

– Yes, my both grandchildren are major thalassemia and they need blood infusions on regular basis.

Q.  Did you get this facility available here?

– No, we take them to Tank hospital for blood transfusion.

Q. is it easy for you to take them to Hospital in Tank?

– It is extremely difficult for me due to security check posts who do not allow us to visit Tank. But mobile clinic staff is very cooperative and they took me with them to transfuse blood to my grandchildren.

Q.  Has anyone died in your household due to this or any other reason during living in the camp?

– Yes, my elder grandchild died two months ago. She was a Major thalassemia as well and died at the age of 17. I have heard that it is quite natural for them to die between ages of 15 to 20 years.

Q.  I just knew that you and your family has suffered a lot during living in this camp, would you like to let me know if anybody is suffering from mental stress in your household?

– Yes, my both Grandchildren are very sad and talk very less because they have seen their elder sister die of the same disease. They are both near to 15 and are scared of death as they know they cannot live more than 18 years of age.

Q.  Did you or anybody consulted with anyone to get rid of this mental stress?

– Yes, I have brought a Mullet for both of them from Molvi sahib.

Q.  What is biggest health issue in your household now?

– What could be other than Thalassemia?

Q.  What could be the most suitable option to solve this issue?

– I do not know much but if a small hospital is established near this camp, not only my grandchildren but many other people’s lives can be saved from death.

 

IDPs Camp Interview #3 — Unemployed male, 42-years-old

Q. Tell me how you and your family arrived in this temporary accommodation?

– Right at the start of Rah-E-Nijat operation against Talibans by security forces, we along with our villagers came to Tank. The travel from Sararogha to Tank proved to be extremely difficult. The first few days, we stayed with our relatives but soon we felt the need of our own shelter so we build our own hut from wood and thatch in an abandoned place and later on soon we shifted to IDP camp as government announced.

Q.  Why did you stay in Tank and did not go further to other big cities?

– Tank is just a 3 hours drive from my village. Other people from our village are also present here in huge numbers, we visited the town few times ago for the purpose of medical treatment and most importantly we assume that as soon as this conflict will end, it will be easy to go back from here easily.

Q.  Did your all family dislocated together?

– Yes I migrated along with my two brother’s households towards Tank.

Q. Do you all live together in this camp?

– No, we live separately but eat together.

Q. why do you live separately when you were living as a one family in Sararogha?

– We have registered ourselves with WFP separately so that we can get food for three households.

Q. what do you do with that much food?

– We sell out extra ration to get money.

Q. How much money you get from selling Ration?

– I get at least 3000 rupees by selling extra ration per month.

Q. Do you get food easily?

– No, getting food is very tough due to long queues that are lining up at dawn to get ration because we are not those lucky people with links who get it easily and without standing in queues.

Q. What is your total monthly income?

– I am unemployed and trying to manage with 3000 rupees that I get from selling extra ration.

Q. How it becomes possible to manage a household of 7 peoples with 3000 Rs only?

– Food is already free and some help is also provided by local community.

Q. In what form this help is provided?

– It is mostly in cash but on festivals clothes, shoes and other household articles are provided too.

Q. Did any among your Relatives, friends, tribesmen and political parties helped you during displacement?

– Our relatives and friends are mostly poor and unable to help us but tribesmen helped us a bit. Few faith-based organizations tried to help us but were denied access to IDPs camp by security forces.

Q.  Has anybody fallen ill in your household during your stay in IDPs camp?

– From the very first day we have moved here, one or other always felt sick in our household. Presently, my 7-month-old son is suffering from asphyxia, while my mother is a permanent patient of arthritis and I feel fever since last two weeks too.

Q.  Did you people get any medical treatment at camp?

– Yes, we visited mobile health clinic and got medicine as well but it was totally ineffective.

Q.  What is this mobile health clinic?

– It is an ambulance equipped with a small dispensary, a dispenser and LHV, that visit our camp once weekly or some time visit us after two weeks. Occasionally it is joined by MBBS doctor as well.

Q.  You told that medication was not much effective, why is that?

– Yes, because they give us same medicine for all types of sicknesses. Last week when I visited Mobile clinic, they gave me syrup polybion and tablet paracetamol for fever and given my wife the same medicine who was suffering from backache. Moreover, for diagnosis, there is not available any blood laboratory, X-ray Machine or specialist doctor.

Q. Who is providing this medication in mobile health clinic?

– Government of Pakistan is providing this facility.

Q.  Did any NGO have provided any health facilities?

– Yes, they provided very good medical help at first when this camp was newly constructed, but after a couple of months they rarely came here.

Q.  You told that your son is suffering from asphyxia since last week, why don’t you take him to Mobile health clinic?

– I am waiting since last week but it is still to come as I have told you already that it visits us only once a week or some times after two weeks.

Q.  Then why don’t you take him to any other health facility in district Tank?

– (Smiling in despair) You know that I have no extra money, city is at a distance of one hour and most importantly, security check posts do not permit us to go out of this camp and visit Tank or any further destination.

Q.  Why security check posts do not permit you to visit Tank or any further destination?

– Ask security forces if they can give you any good reason.

Q.  You are right but I would prefer to listen from you.

– This big turban (pointing towards the turban he was wearing), my long beard, my Mehsud lineage and my tribal culture are so called security threat for military. They (military) assume that every Mehsud household is a supporter of Taliban which is false and due to this pretext they have turned this camp into a Jail for us. We are not allowed to travel to Tank after 5 pm in the evening even if someone is dying of injury/disease/pangs.

Q.  Did anyone die in your household due to this reason?

– Yes, my pregnant wife and child died just because they (military) did not permit us to visit doctor in Tank at 10 pm in night because they assumed this late travelling is very dangerous for so called peace (cursing military).

(After condolence for her wife and unborn child, I continued interview)

Q.  Did you provide antenatal care to your wife?

– Yes, I took her to LHV in Mobile clinic for checkup before her death.

Q.  I just knew that you and your family has suffered a lot during living in this camp, would you like to let me know if anybody is suffering from mental stress in your household too?

– Yes, my 12-year-old child is weeping all the time remembering his mother. My mother is suffering from anorexia and sleeplessness and I am just hopeless about the future of my household.

Q.  Did you or anybody consulted with any psychiatrist to get rid of this mental stress?

– Psychiatrist never visits us here in camp. I have brought a mullet for my son and mother from Molvi sahib. Moreover, when any relatives or friends come here it also relieves our mental stress.

Q.  Why did not you bring a mullet for yourself?

– I believe that time is the best healer and when we will get back home this mental stress will be relieved.

Q.  What is biggest health issue in your household now?

– mental stress is biggest health issue in my household.

Q.  What could be the most suitable way to get rid of this mental stress?

– If we get back to our hometown, this issue will be solved.

Q.  Please elaborate your answer a bit.

– Look, all these tensions are here because we are away from our hometown, house and land. If we get out of this tent (camp), our health will be good because fresh air and water and fruits will be available to us. We will be working in our small farms which will not only generate income but also keep us busy. The fresh breeze revolving around tall trees of walnuts in great mountains and zigzag water streams will blow away all our worries.

© Shahid Khan Marwat

3 responses to “The Plight Of The IDPs Of Waziristan

  1. Dear Sesapzi sister. I belong to FATA n i know the mentality of those areas. Do remember one thing, The worst thing a Tribesman can accept is being forced to leave his home n reside in a IDPs camp. There is no compensation for this psychological deficit which prevails after such operations. I live in FATA and need to leave but these sentiments have caught me there still though it could be hazardous.
    So the govt must ensure that this operation gets decisive if it is sincere with the people of FATA otherwise better BOMB FATA and conclude the story rather than the everyday teasing. Thanks a lot

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