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Pakistan’s 2.5 million displaced people

At the beginning of May, the Pakistani army launched an operation against anti-government militants. This took place in Swat, the former tourist resort in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province.

Few of Swat’s residents were prepared for the intensity of the military operation, which involved the use of heavy artillery and aerial bombardment from helicopter gunships and fighter jets. Once it began, ordinary civilians embarked on a mass exodus to safer parts of the province.

According to reports in the local media, many civilians were killed or severely injured while trying to make their way to safety. Thousands more remained in Swat, only to find themselves stranded without food, water, medical supplies and electricity.

Seeking refuge

Since the beginning of the military operation, over 2.5 million civilians have left the combat zone. The majority of these people have made their way to Mardan district, to the south of Swat. They have sought refuge in official camps and public buildings such as schools or have simply settled along the roadsides in so-called “spontaneous camps.”

Vital assistance

Those displaced by the fighting have been broadly welcomed by the host communities. They have received food and other supplies from private donors and NGOs. Concern has provided thousands of families with essential items such as cooking equipment, kitchen utensils, toiletries, mosquito nets and floor mats.

Despite this assistance, the displaced people of Swat are living in very difficult conditions. In most cases they have nowhere to bathe or shower and dozens of people are forced to share a handful of toilets. Access to healthcare is also limited.

Worries for the future

In July, children will be due to return to school. If the people of Swat have been unable to return to their homes by then, there will be another crisis. The tens of thousands of people living in schools will have to move on, or the children will have to forego their education until Swat’s displaced can find somewhere else to live.

Even if the fighting in Swat ends soon, these 2.5 million people will have no idea what they will face when they return. Many homes and businesses have been destroyed and looted. Much of the valley’s basic infrastructure has been destroyed in the fighting.

Only one thing is certain: the people of Swat need as much support as they can get to help them overcome their present difficulties and eventually rebuild their lives.