International Rescue Committee
July 29, 20014
Nearly a million people have been forced to leave their homes in North Waziristan, a region of northeast Pakistan, since June 14. More than 95,000 have fled to the Afghan province of Khost and another 17,000 to neighboring Paktika province. Many of these refugees lack clean water and shelter, according to recent assessments by the International Rescue Committee. Because the IRC has worked in Khost since 1993, we have been able to access districts that even the United Nations can’t reach.
An International Rescue Committee (IRC) survey of 70 villages found that most refugees are living alongside local families; however, due to a lack of space and gender sensitivities, many must sleep in unroofed courtyards. In response, the IRC has handed out more than 1,000 tents to provide these displaced people with shelter from the elements.
“The immediate priority has been providing people with shelter to escape the sun, wind and rain, as well as supplying clean water and toilets to prevent illness,” says Allen Greenway, IRC’s Afghanistan country director. “In addition, it has been vital to supply refugees with the bare necessities, because the majority fled with little more than the clothes on their back.”
Fleeing by foot
“We came here with nothing and we have no idea how long we will stay,” says Lal*, one of the refugees now living with his family in an IRC-supplied tent. “We were in such a rush to get out we left everything behind. No cars would take us so we travelled to Khost by foot. The women’s slippers were quickly torn and many had to travel barefoot, which left them with terrible blisters. We carried water in bottles but the adults dared not drink any, in case the children might die of thirst.” Lal was not able to take his sick mother on the arduous journey and she has since died.
Lack of clean water
Assisting the refugees is straining the limited finances of host families. Villagers have told the IRC that instead of refilling their water tanks just once a week, they now pay to fill them every two days.
In the coming weeks, the IRC will be drilling more water boreholes in villages that are hosting the largest number of refugees and paying refugees and local people to maintain taps and wells to guarantee a supply of clean water.
Many local communities also lack sufficient latrines, increasing the risk of diarrhea and other diseases. The IRC has provided over 300 temporary latrines and will be paying local people to build permanent ones.
The IRC has also given more than 2,500 families essential items to replace what they left behind, including bedsheets, tablecloths, jerry cans, gas canisters, emergency lights, soap, shampoo, washing powder, toothbrushes and toothpaste.
Loss of education
While local schools are accepting refugee children, Mullah*, a refugee elder, explained the difficulties Pakistanis still face providing quality education for their children.
“We are happy with the local support, but there are a lot of differences in the curriculums between Pakistan and Afghanistan,” he says. “Our children have to read and write in Urdu or English, while in Afghanistan the curriculum is in Pashto and Dari.”
Explains Greenway, “The longer these refugees remain in Afghanistan, the more important it will be for them to find work in order to afford lodgings, and make sure children get back in school and are not robbed of their education. A real worry is how we will be able to support people if they are still unable to return home before the temperatures plummet, especially as local people have warned that they won’t have enough food to support the refugees throughout the winter.”
The IRC began working inside Afghanistan in 1988 and reaches over 4 million people in more than 4,000 communities, focusing on community-driven reconstruction projects, education and emergency relief to people who have been forced to flee their homes.
*Full names not used for privacy reasons