Friday, July 4, 2014

The Agonies of the North Waziristan IDPs Continue


By Shad Begum[1] 

At the Bannu sports complex

On July 1, 2014, my anger turned into frustration and then helplessness during my meetings with the IDPs women and children of North Waziristan at District Bannu.

My little worries and security concerns of overnight stay at Bannu were completely overwhelmed when I reached the Bannu Sports Complex and saw men, women and children waiting in scorching heat with out shelter. All of these women were cladded in traditional Burqa, some of them with breast-feeding babies in their laps sitting on the roadside.

On the gate of the distribution point for food ration I asked a woman why she is waiting out side the gate. She said, “I have come here to collect food ration and waiting here since early morning and have left my children at home but have not received any ration so far”.  When I asked the security personnel standing at the gate that why these women are not getting ration, he said they are not registered. I told him why don’t you tell them to get registered first. He said these are good-for-nothing women who have come out of their homes to collect food ration. A surge of anger overtook me and told the security guard this is very undignified to treat women in distress with such attitude.

I entered the gate and saw many more women still waiting. Some of them were having fake registration tokens, others were having old National Identity Cards (NIC) which were not accepted by the authorities as a valid proof, while others were not having the identity cards because the Taliban had put a ban on women to apply for the NICs.

It also came to my knowledge that an invisible mafia is collecting Computerized National Identity Cards (CNICs) from widows and unaccompanied women on the pretext to get them registered but disappeared.

I was pained to notice that the illiteracy of these women is adding insult to injury. In this horrific situation it came to my mind that when a men gets frustrated, he expresses it through anger but I saw a sickening helplessness on the faces of women IDPs. These women are vulnerable to exploitation by ruthless profiteers. The chances of human trafficking can not be ruled out in such situation as was witnessed during Swat-Malakand IDPs crisis, in which the illiterate and unaccompanied women were misguided and some of them ended up in red light areas of Pakistan’s urban centers.  

The sufferings of these women could have been avoided by a small measure to setup an information desk staffed by female at the food distribution point, which was missing. I saw bearded man drinking cold water from a nearby vendor to beat the scorching heat, mindful that it was the holy fasting month, I felt the sufferings of these Pashtuns men for whom fasting is not only a religious obligation but a matter of honor and pride, yet they were drinking water in public.

When I came out of the distribution point, another group of women surrounded me with volleys of questions, yet a child of 14 years caught my attention and asked me where is the registration point. I asked him whether he had no elders, he said his mothers and sisters are living in a room granted by a host family in another village and that he is the senior male at home. I give him some money and directed him towards some officials to know about the registration. I kept busy with the women but after sometime, the child came back and retuned me the money. I told him this was for his family to buy some food till he gets registered and receive food ration, but he strongly resisted taking the money. I was highly impressed by his dignity and self-respect.

I also asked some of the IDPs about the reasons for not being registered at the only registration point of Sadgai check post.  They told me that there were rumors that the registration was about collecting information about the Taliban, therefore they avoided to come through Sadgai check post and they entered Bannu through other routes.

At the office of the Commissioner Bannu Division

With the feeling of frustration at the arrangements at the Bannu sports complex, I went to the office of the Commissioner Bannu Division to share some of my thoughts on the situation of the arrangements for the IDPs. Thoroughly professional and pragmatic in his approach, the Commissioner cordially welcomed me to his office and provided relevant information on the number of IDPs at various locations. I shared with him that the difficulties of the IDPs in the registration process, in getting necessary information, and standing in long queues in the scorching heat to get the ration of food. I also managed to tell him that better arrangements at the distribution point could save IDPs from unnecessary sufferings, for example a one window facility wherein each government actor (National Data Base and Registration Authority, FATA Disaster Management Authority, Provincial Disaster Management Authority, SAFRON and security agencies) could sit together and provide all the services to the IDPs under one roof. He said that the influx of IDPs was quite sudden and there are areas of improvements. I also shared my information that the prices of rent have been exaggeratedly increased by host families, which his office could regularize by convening a meeting of the local property and estate agents to fix a reasonable rate according to the market rate. During our conversation the Commissioner was also attending to other visitors (local MPAs, and district officials) who came to his office because the Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was on a visit to meet the IDPs at Bannu. His attention was divided but he was willing to start work on some initiatives to make sure that IDPs are treated well in District Bannu.

Visit to the Women and Children Hospital at Bannu

The Women and Children Hospital at Bannu is the only specialized hospital in maternity and pediatric care with a big catchment area. Bannu district’s population is approximately 1.2 million. The influx of around 4.5 million IDPs and patients from the adjacent districts and South Waziristan has overburdened the hospital. From 16th to 29th June, around four thousand IDPs women and children were treated in the already approved budget of the hospital. There was no additional budget provided by the government to look after the increasing number of IDPs patients. The hospital authorities disclosed that gastro enteritis; sun and heat strokes due to long journey, skin and chest infection and malaria are some of the prominently reported diseases among the women and children IDPs.  Similarly premature deliveries due to shock and journey by foot, death of newborn babies and cesarean deliveries are also reported. I visited the women ward of the hospital and talked to a mother of a newborn baby. She looked weak and anemic.  I talked to her husband to give some food supplements to his wife as she was too weak to talk but he said he can’t afford and wised he could go back to his village at the earliest.  My feeling was that the hospital did not have sufficient qualified staff, which could have been addressed by calling the medical staff from North Waziristan to Bannu on need basis.

NGOs at work

The Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) has strictly forbidden NGOs from any relief assistance unless they get an NOC (No objection certificate) for work. However I noticed that some of the NGOs, including faith-based organizations, were busy in providing relief assistance to the IDPs. 

Meeting with Director General (DG) at PDMA

The next day, I went to PDMA to share some of my visit observations with the Director General (DG) at Peshawar.   I was especially curious to know is to why some NGOs are allowed to work while others are kept in waiting. The DG PDMA had convened a meeting of the UNOCHA and some of the national humanitarian organizations to seek support for providing human resource and logistic support to conduct the Rapid Need Assessment in district Bannu. I attended the meeting, after which I met the DG PDMA and shared my observations of the Bannu visit.  After our discussion, I came to the conclusion that there is a visible confusion and competition among various government agencies to look after the IDPs.

The ministry of SAFRON is taking the lead and providing relief assistance to the IDPs through the military but majority of the IDPs are falling within the jurisdiction of the provincial government and its PDMA. The authority of the FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) is limited to the Bakka Khel IDP camp at FR Bannu, which is a FATA area. However very limited families of IDPs are staying in the Bakka Khel camp. It is worth mentioning that the ministry of SAFRON has experience of dealing with Afghan refugees but the PDMA is legally mandated and has the experience of dealing with IDPs from Swat and various agencies of FATA residing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.  Apart from the approximately 0.5 million IDPs of North Waziristan the PDMA have been looking after nearly 1.2 million IDPs for the last few years in the province.

My last impressions were that the tug of war between various government agencies is only adding to the miseries of the IDPs.



[1] Shad Begum is a human rights activist from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan and a recipient of international women of courage award

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