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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Families returning to Swat to face hunger this Ramadan

Islamic Relief aid workers are warning that people returning home to Swat in northwest Pakistan are facing serious shortages of food.

After three months of living with host families or in camps, some of the three million displaced people have started to return to their homes. Many have found that their houses and livelihoods have been destroyed and the infrastructure of the region devastated. The damage to the agricultural sector and the continuing curfew in the region means they will struggle to feed their families this Ramadan.

Around 60 percent of those who were forced to flee their homes make a living from farming. During the conflict they were unable to go home to harvest their crops and fruit, or to plant rice for the forthcoming season. This has created shortages of food and has also left farmers with no source of income.

The ongoing curfew means all the shops and markets are still closed, while others in larger towns such as Mingora have been destroyed or damaged. People are unable to buy even basic food items.
"I have just visited Swat and I believe that progress there has gone back ten years. Swat was once a progressive and bustling economic centre. Many people would make their living from the abundant orchards in the region, but the last harvest has all been lost and people are unsure how they will support their families over the coming months," Islamic Relief aid worker Sultan Mahmood said.
According to Islamic Relief Pakistan, around 90 percent of the population of Swat left their homes due to the fighting and the majority travelled to Mardan District where they found refuge with local families or in schools and hospitals. Around 50 percent of the displaced people in Lower Swat have now returned to their homes and many more will return in the coming weeks as the start of the holy month of Ramadan draws near.
"People in Swat are still very scared that the fighting might start again but came back because they desperately missed their homes and their relatives," added Mahmood. "They have returned to find the curfew still in place and the agriculture sector devastated. This means they are approaching Ramadan with the very real threat of food shortages hanging over them."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

IR USA Staff Update from Pakistan

Islamic Relief USA staff-member Abdulghafoor Mahboob is currently visiting field offices and project sites in Pakistan with a team of colleagues. He shared his experiences with the rest of the staff on July 15 in an e-mail message. You will find excerpts below:

Alhamdulillah, the Islamic Relief team from USA has completed the first day of our trip to Pakistan. We had a chance to meet with the Country Director of the Islamic Relief Pakistan office, and met with different department heads.

Mash'Allah, they have been working very hard to implement different project in the best way possible.

Later in the afternoon, we had a chance to meet with two orphans sponsored by donors from the US. Seeing them personally and getting a chance to know the kind of impact Islamic Relief makes on the lives of these orphans was heartwarming. I wish you all were there to listen to the prayers of an orphan's mother to all of you and to the donors so you could see how you are saving lives and bringing smiles.

We also visited two businesses which are receiving Islamic microfinance loans from Islamic Relief. I found out that Islamic Relief was the first organization to give out interest-free loans in all of Pakistan.

Insh'Allah, tomorrow we will be going to Bagh in Kashmir to see our US-funded projects and will be there for two days.

On July 18, if the situation permits, we will be going to Mardan to see our emergency work for internally displaced persons and the ailing host communities in the Swat Valley region.

Just to let you know, the Mercy Center in Mardan has been praised by highest officials of the UN and they are looking into making the Mercy Center part of future emergencies.

I have a lot more to say but insh'Allah the team will give all of you an update when we come back. Keep the team in your prayers.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mercy Center Update

Nearly 3,000 children have registered and received counseling at the child-friendly spaces that Islamic Relief has opened near the conflict zone is northwest Pakistan.

Otherwise known as Mercy Centers, these child-friendly spaces are a place where children can play and learn.

Children are also offered psychosocial care, as government officials estimate up to 70 percent of children displaced by the conflict are traumatized.

Seven Mercy Centers and nine satellite centers are also serving thousands of people from the host communities, as most of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) chose to settle with friends and family rather than in the camps.

More than 4,000 patients have been treated by Islamic Relief's Health Team and at the Mercy Centers.

Mercy Centers have also distributed non-food aid to over 1,600 families. Aid items include: household kits, hygiene kits and kitchen sets.

Islamic Relief is now preparing for a massive initiative to rehabilitate the water and sanitation facilities in Mardan and Char Gulli.

Continue your support for the displaced in Pakistan and forward this to a friend today.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sanitation Systems on Brink of Collapse

There are 452 displaced people living in the classrooms of the Boys High School in Char Gulli and all are facing enormous problems because there is no working restroom at the school. As hygiene conditions deteriorate, diseases such as scabies and diarrhea continue to spread amongst the people taking shelter there.

Azeemat Khan from Kal Pari, Buner has been living in this school with his wife, four sons and six daughters for over a month. He explains how the lack of sanitation facilities has affected the health of his family.

When we first came to Mardan we stayed with relatives, but it was very difficult because there was not enough space or resources for all of us. It has been nearly a month and half now since we have moved to this school.

My brothers are also staying at the same school and two of my nephews are sick because of the poor hygiene conditions and because there is no sanitation facilities.

If there was a proper sanitation system in place I believe that a lot of these diseases would not be a problem here.

We are not used to living in conditions like this. We had a lovely house back in Buner that was well constructed and with all the facilities in it. We had enough money to live a good life and we never thought that we would end up living like this.

We are living here because we do not have any other choice at the moment. But the moment we know for sure that it is safe to go back to our villages we will not wait for a one single moment and we will leave.

Life here is all about stress, and our future seems bleak. If the situation remains like this for much longer then I have no idea what we will do, but I hope that someone will help us.

Islamic Relief is helping to provide sanitation facilities to displaced people and local families by constructing 1,500 sanitary restrooms, washing places and hand-pumps which provide clean water in schools where displaced people are sheltering in Char Gulli and Rustam. Work has already begun to build new facilities at the school where Azeemat and his family are living.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Thank You Dupage MSA

Helping save lives could be fun, the MSA at the College of Dupage found out last month.

The MSA hosted a barbeque at the Blackwell Forest Preserve, all in hopes of supporting the Islamic Relief Mercy Center project.

The food and material were covered by the students, and with sponsor donations, community contributions and the participation of those who attended, they raised more than $1,000.

This money can help hundreds of people in Pakistan, and the MSA raised it while enjoying their weekend.

You can do it too.

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Thank you Dupage MSA! May Allah reward you!

Read more here.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Struggling to Stay, Scared to Leave

Niyaz Muhammad, an Islamic Relief aid worker, is based in Mardan District where Islamic Relief is working with those who have fled the fighting in Buner, Dir and Swat. In his diary he reports on the situation in an area that is struggling with more than 2 million displaced people.

Bakhtmel is a father of 13 from Buner but is living with his family in the village of Surkh Dheri. He told me that he has no intention of returning home just yet as he fears he will be returning to nothing.

"If we go back we will be living in darkness as the infrastructure has been destroyed. There is no electricity or communication facility," he said.

"My fields and my livelihood have been destroyed so there will be no way that I will be able to make a living when I go back," he explained. "This means that we will be reliant on external aid and will probably have to live in tents as our homes have been damaged and are uninhabitable."

At the moment Bakhtmel and his family don't have to live in a tent as they have been taken in by a local family.

But conditions are incredibly difficult. Two families are sharing two small rooms with just mud floors and walls and little in the way of furniture. There is no running water, scarcely enough food, no cooking facilities and just one latrine between more than 20 people.

Despite these hardships, Bakhtmel fears that if they return home they will be in a worse position, with no support at all.