“Nothing’s better than the peace of my home”
When you open the door the stench of stale breath and sweat is mixed with the heat. As it hits you, you can feel people’s misery. They have lost everything and now they have to live in squalor. In recent years, our staff have responded to several emergencies in Pakistan – from the 2005 Kashmir earthquake to the Balochistan flooding in 2007 – but nothing could have prepared them for what they see when they visit the camps and host communities where displaced families are now living in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). In some places there are up to 70 people living in one house, and 500 people sharing just two toilets. People have no other option than to defecate in the street.
In another camp children play in pools of dirty water swarming with mosquitoes and girls, who have been wearing the same torn, dirty clothes for weeks, have now caught scabies.
Our doctors have seen babies – just days old – severely dehydrated with acute diarrhoea and their distressed mothers desperately trying to comfort them inside stifling tents where the temperature must be almost 50 degrees.
They have also met mothers struggling to breastfeed because of the stress of having to run for their lives to flee the fighting. What’s more, it is not culturally acceptable for women to bathe near men, so many women and girls have not washed since they fled their homes up to a month ago because washroom facilities in some camps and host communities are in close proximity.
The cramped and unhygienic conditions where people have to live means that diseases are easily spread and if one person falls ill, it is virtually inevitable that most other people they are living with will fall ill too. We are already seeing many cases of chest infections, diarrhoea and dysentery and we fear we will see cases of typhoid, cholera and tuberculosis within weeks.
We are constantly recruiting new doctors, and advising families on how to limit the spread of disease, but the task is by no means an easy one. Our doctors have to travel up to four hours a day to treat people living in remote villages. More than 50% of basic public health clinics in the conflict zone have either been destroyed or turned into make-shift camps.
In addition to the physical problems, thousands of children are psychologically and emotionally scarred from having witnessed the horrors of war. They have heard the shelling, seen their friends and relatives killed and have had to walk for up to two days through the mountains to reach safety. Now they are miles from home, living – in some cases – with complete strangers. Some children sit quietly in the corner of the room, while others cling to their mothers, crying constantly, or repeatedly asking to go home.
Save the Children has delivered vital aid to tens of thousands of displaced families and we will continue to support them for as long as it takes – until these children can put what they have been through behind them and start to enjoy their childhoods once again. In one camp an eight-year-old girl was sitting on her own playing with the petals of a flower. She said she was worried about her father because he had stayed at home with her grandparents who were too frail to make the journey to safety with her and her mother – a story we have heard many times. When we asked her if she would like us to bring her some toys when we returned to the camp, she replied: ‘You can’t bring me anything that would be better than the peace of my home.’