“We are living in hell. There is no other word for it,” said Muhammad Nazir Khan, 30, speaking to IRIN from Mingora, the principal city of Swat Valley in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP).
Khan said for 10 days during a recent curfew he and his family lacked food, surviving at times on just a glass of milk from their goat and a few morsels of ‘roti’ (flat bread). “It was hard to see my two children hungry and scared,” said Khan.
Mingora, where there has been fierce fighting between government forces and militants, is now largely back in government hands. A curfew was lifted on 31 May, after 10 days during which people were effectively trapped in their own homes. Since then more people have been trying to leave the city.
Most of the 375,000 inhabitants fled before the curfew, local residents and aid agencies say. Local residents reckon around 20,000 are left in the town. A few people are now beginning to trickle back.
Even though the city is gradually beginning to return to some kind of normality, with some shops stocking small quantities of food, the situation remains grim. The supply of water, electricity and natural gas is erratic at best. “It is very tough managing like this,” said Rozia Khan, 35, a mother of three.
|Highlights from an OCHA update, 2 June 2009|
|Funding remains a significant challenge across all sectors. To date, the revised Pakistan Humanitarian response Plan has only received 22% funding.|
|The pipeline of food for IDPs cannot be sustained and is expected to run out by late June or early July.|
|Current stocks of essential drugs will be depleted as of June. Urgent funding is required to cover health response for the next 6 months.|
|Water and sanitation activities are being scaled up for IDPs in host communities.|
|Over the past week, some 110,000 IDPs have moved into some 2,103 vacant schools in eight districts (Abbotabad, Charsadda, Haripur, Mansehra, Mardan, Nowshera, Peshawar and Swabi). The NWFP authorities will be providing them with food rations. The use of these scholls as shelters beyond August could affect the schooling of half a million children of the host comunities.|
Hospitals are badly affected. “The hospital in Mingora and many other hospitals in Swat are simply not working, because there is no power, no gas and the situation is pretty bad,” Sebastien Brack from the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Islamabad told IRIN.
ICRC said the hospital in Khwazakhela town was being inundated with patients. “There are injured people, children who are sick and those who need urgent care. It is very difficult to cope,” a doctor at the hospital, who did not wish to be named, told IRIN.
"The people of Swat need greater humanitarian protection and assistance immediately," said Pascal Cuttat, head of the ICRC delegation in Pakistan. "The ICRC will do its utmost to meet those needs without delay. Given what we have already seen on the ground, we are mobilizing additional resources, but safe and unimpeded access to the area remains essential for our teams to deliver."
Those left behind
Many of those who have stayed in Mingora are the most impoverished and least able to survive.
“I earned about Rs 3,000 [US$38] a month as a labourer, buying a little ‘atta’ [wheat flour] or other food with what I earned each day. We had no stocks of food at home. The last few days were a nightmare. Even now I am not earning, so we have nothing to live on,” Azam Khan, 50, told IRIN.
He said he had wanted to move his family to an IDP camp (over 21 have now been set up) but could not do so, because transport was too expensive - and he was fearful: “We are afraid the militants will return. We saw terrible sights during the conflict. Corpses lay in the street; injured children screamed. We never want to face such peril again.”
The information minister of the NWFP government, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, told IRIN: “Everything possible will be done to help the people of Swat.”