Kheshgi Refugee Camp, Pakistan Floods 2010

Doctors Worldwide Pakistan Nowshera
August 19, 2011

The Kheshgi Refugee Camp in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province is home to just under 2,000 Afghan refugees. Many of the elders in the camp have been living in Pakistan as refugees for the past 30 years displaced by war and conflict in Afghanistan. Eight years ago 10,000 Afghans lived here but over time the majority returned back to their homes across Afghanistan. Those that remain in Kheshgi camp are trying their best to rebuild their lives months on from the worst flooding in Pakistan’s history impacting on 20 million people. As floodwaters surged around them, the camp’s residents fled for their lives collecting their children and wading through water to reach higher ground.dfgdg

Malang Jaan, 30, and his uncle Nisar Ahmed, 45 , are in the courtyard outside their recently rebuilt homes. They are supervising a relative who is building a gate for the house. Kheshgi camp is covered in brilliant winter sunlight providing residents with a few hours of much needed respite from the bitter winter cold that sets in from dusk in North West Pakistan. It’s the kind of bitter cold that attacks the bones. The flimsy tents and half built homes offer little protection to people against the biting cold. All around children are playing wearing thin shalwar kameeze, some wear cardigans and many have no shoes.

Doctors Worldwide has been working in Kheshgi camp since late July 2010 when the flooding started. We have provided building materials and cement to the community so they can start rebuilding their homes. The price of cement like most things in Pakistan is becoming increasingly beyond the reach of the very poor. One bag of cement costs around 350 Rupees (around £3.50p). On average it costs 250 (£2.50p) rupees a day to provide a family with basic food for the day. The men who are fortunate enough to have jobs in the camp work as labourers in Nowshera and surrounding villages. Very few children attend school because there isn’t enough money to send them to school and the women spend the day taking care of their homes and children.

‘’We are struggling to rebuild our homes after the floods. I called some relatives in Afghanistan and asked them to send me some money so I could start again. All we had left was the clothes on our back,’’ describes camp resident Malang Jaan.

‘’It is impossible for us to receive aid from the government of Pakistan because we are refugees. Many people in the camp don’t have any ID cards so we are dependent on the kindness of strangers and organisations like Doctors Worldwide, ’’ Continues Malang.

Malang invites me in to his home and shows me around one of the rooms, which contains his families’ possessions.  He points to the roof that Doctors Worldwide provided materials to construct. The roof is made of bamboo wood, cane and wooden planks. Plastic sheets cover the structure so it’s waterproof. The room has shelves that store the family’s pots and pans and asides from the traditional palangs, traditional beds, the room is sparse.

Malang says he was unable to salvage anything from the floodwater and points to two plastic buckets that were given to him by an international aid organisation. He says this is the only aid he has been given to date aside from the assistance he is receiving from Doctors Worldwide. Alongside the building material, Doctors Worldwide has been providing hot food for residents of the camp. On the festival of Eid Al Adha,  meat was distributed to families so they could cook their own meals.

Abdul Wahab is Doctors Worldwide’s medical coordinator and lives in Nowshera.

‘’These refugees really are the poorest of the poor and are not being helped by anyone. We are distributing cement and roofing materials so at the very least people can build one solid room where they can shelter from the harsh winter. It’s very difficult for the elderly and children especially to sleep outside in a tent. Its not appropriate for women and children to be subjected to such conditions and now that the winter is here we need to make sure that people stay healthy.’’

Nisar Ahmed is an imam and used to run the local mosque and madrasa (religious school). He describes how in the early hours of the morning, just after the Morning Prayer, he found himself caught in rising floodwater. ‘’I called my nephew and told him that the mosque is submerged in water and that he must wake all the family up and take them to a place of safety.’’

‘’In less than 20 minutes I was chest deep in water – I tried very hard to save as many Quran’s and prayer mats as I could. The entire mosque was full of water and the structure couldn’t withstand the pressure of the water – it collapsed and sunk.’’

It took Nisar many hours to make his way back to Kheshgi camp and regroup with members of his family who were sheltering from the floodwaters on higher ground.

‘’We are tough people and are used to living under difficult circumstances. Despite this we have never seen anything likes these floods. We didn’t have much before the floods; we were living a basic life. Our camp doesn’t have electricity, but we are the type of people who get on with life. As long as our families have a roof over their heads everything else will be ok.’’

A short walk away from the camp a large group of men have gathered on the road. They form a neat que and wait for bags of cement to be handed down to them from the lock up where the bags are being stored. The ironically named ‘’Lucky Cement’’ is worth more than gold dust in this neighbourhood.  The men wait patiently clutching on to paperwork hoping that their luck will be in and they will be going home with a bag of cement so they can rebuild their homes.

Abdul Wahab believes Doctors Worldwide have provided much needed assistance to this community and is proud of the difference the organisation is making.

‘’We are a small organisation compared to other international aid agencies but I feel confident that the work we are doing in these communities is making a difference and helping to ease the suffering of people who have been through so much. None of our work would be possible without the donations from people in the UK around the world and on behalf of Doctors Worldwide and the communities here I thank everyone for their generosity, ’’ says Abdul Wahab.