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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."


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