Life in the camps in Pakistan

By Jonaid Jilani

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Ahmed Gul was in despair. He had lost five relatives in the conflict in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Now he had made it to the safety of a camp well away from the fighting, but the last of his rice was about to run out and he didn't know how he was going to feed his family of six.

"We survived the shelling, but now we've nothing to eat," said Mr Gul. "The fighting was all around us. Five members of my family were killed in the attack. It was terrifying. We left everything and walked here. Now we've no food and not enough water."

Mr Gul and his family fled with literally just the clothes on their backs and are crammed into a small tent without any blankets or possessions. "I've heard some wheat will be distributed tomorrow, but how can we cook it?" said Mr Gul, gesturing around the bare tent. "We've no pots or pans, no utensils, no stove."

A feeling of depression and listlessness hangs over the camp. Ten days ago it was a patch of bare ground wedged in between a market and a road within the town of Mardan. Now it's the new home to eight thousand civilians caught up in the fighting. They lie in the intense heat, struggling to get through the worst of the day as temperatures soar into the 40s. Like Mr Gul and his family, most of them look worn out. Water is short and they've not been able to wash for days.

"I'm worried about the children," said Mr Gul. "They're already getting diarrhea and allergies. I think they could easily get malaria. There's not enough water to keep them clean."

Life is especially tough for the women. Many don't want to meet unfamiliar men and feel they must spend the day inside the roasting hot tents. There's nowhere private and secluded enough for them to wash. Some water is making it into the camp in tankers, and Oxfam will start bringing in more over the coming days, as well as providing soap, buckets, and cooking gear. But it's only a relief, not the solution.

"The difference between home and here is the difference between the earth and the sky," said Roshana Bibi, one of a group of women huddling under a tree for shade. "Going back home would be like going to heaven."