Temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, overcrowding, inadequate toilets and a lack of electricity make refugee camps in and around the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) in Pakistan "intolerable," according to relief workers for the international aid agency, World Vision.
"Many children and their families have walked for days to reach camps like this one in Swabi. They have fled the fighting, left behind their livelihoods, and arrived at the camps exhausted and afraid," said Jeff Hall, World Vision's deputy director for advocacy in the Middle East. "Despite the coordinated efforts of the Pakistani authorities, World Vision, and other aid agencies on the ground, we may not be able to meet the most basic needs of the refugees as quickly as they are arriving in the camps if it continues at this pace."
There are just over 4,000 people currently living in Chota Lahore, the camp set up in Swabi. The majority of the refugees taking shelter at the camp are women and children. The camp is several miles from the nearest commercial area, so work isn't available, and it is difficult for people to purchase basic supplies.
Many of the people in Chota Lahore have fled from the mountains of Pakistan, and they are used to cooler climates. In Chota Lahore, the sun beats down on the camp, sending the temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and shade is nearly nonexistent. The pit latrines are filling up quickly and will become unpleasant in the summer heat. There is no electricity, and health services are extremely limited.
Because the fighting escalated so quickly, many people had to leave everything behind and immediately head for safety. As a result, they were forced to leave behind their crops at harvest time, and they fear that their crops and livestock have been destroyed in the fighting, nearly eliminating many families' livelihoods for the next year. Some families have also reported having to leave elderly parents behind in the conflict area because they were not strong enough to make the difficult trip to the camps.
According to World Vision's assessment team in Swabi, the number of refugees arriving in the camps could increase dramatically in the coming days if hostilities are not contained, straining the already limited resources in the region, and the camps may not be able to keep providing basic services to the families as more and more people flee their homes.
World Vision is working alongside the local government and other aid agencies to provide relief to an estimated 200,000 people fleeing from the violence. As the aid agency begins to scale up its efforts, the first priority will be food, water, and adequate shelter for the families. Intense fighting between militant groups and the Pakistani forces in and around the Swat valley has driven more families from their homes, adding to the 550,000 people already displaced over the past three years of violence.