Mohammed Ali got into a fight when he tried to fill up a fourth vessel with water to take back to his family, in his tent-home here at Jalozai Camp. Some younger kids beat him up for covetously filling in more and more water from the pump while keeping others waiting in the line with worn-out disposable bottles and cans. The hard water they get here is scarce and unfit for drinking.
But Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) living in Jalozai don’t have a choice. Ali’s legs bled but no one wanted to help him. He muttered abuses at the other kids and limped away. The frenzy around the water pump continued.
Sixteen year old Ali came here to Jalozai from Bajaur with his family of 12, three years ago, escaping war and militancy in the agency. This was a temporary move they were told, but three years have passed and there seems to be no sign of them going back. Now, his life consists of meaningless hustle and bustle during the day and a sad disquieting darkness at night.
Triple razor-wire fences, concrete walls, watch towers, or even entrance gate security, do not exist in Jalozai. It’s a naked open land with no fences – just rows of tents. IDPs hailing from different tribes have started their own way of life here. Some have installed kilns for bread making, while elsewhere some children are spotted all across the camp with tiny stalls of candies and one to five rupee items.
Groups of young girls and boys and other volunteers often visited from big cities like Lahore, Karachi, but they don’t come anymore. Donations have wilted amidst donors fatigue but sometimes when they do get visitors who give away packed food and other items, it becomes a frenzy that’s hard to handle. Today was one such day.
When one such NGO was visiting from Islamabad, IDPs were told to stand in a line – they did, until the distribution started. In the ensuing chaos, people toppled over each other, shoving, abusing, pushing, falling and kicking each other to get their hands on as many items as they possibly could. A Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) official watched over the crowd, scolded them and sometimes straightened them with a stick for not behaving patiently.
Ali told Dawn.com they were not going to use all the distributed materials, but that they would still serve a purpose. They could sell it in the market outside the camps and get some money to invest into something else they needed more. Ali explained that he would take lots of food items like rice bags, packed dried food that they don’t eat and utensils like buckets that were donated to the market outside.
Groups of young girls and boys and other volunteers often visited from big cities like Lahore, Karachi, but they don’t come anymore.“I’m really good at getting my hands on more things. Thanks to the Almighty, our family is big,” said Ali with a sense of accomplishment. He managed to get an extra packet of packed dried food items and oil cans. In return, he will buy wheat for his family and medicine for his grandmother with the money he is able to make with the sales.
Getting extra aid is a rare opportunity for IDPs. Rations are usually arranged by either the government, or aid agencies working in the camp such as the World Food Programme through ration cards, which restrict the supply of goods. Over the years, the number of supplies have slowly decreased. Often, IDPs have gone hungry when the PDMA did not have sufficient provisions.
For Ali, it’s been especially hard. He grew up in a privileged family in Bajaur Agency. His family was not poor and he had never experienced hunger. Ali’s mother was a school teacher, a well-respected profession in his tribal community, despite stereotypes which state otherwise. He experienced the first shock of war as a 13-year-old, when his uncle was executed by the army as a militant suspect.
“They only kill militant suspects and not actual militants” Ali said. He added that he had seen militants roam around in his neighborhood before the operation started. “It scared me,” he said with a pause.
Ali’s father Khalid Khan Khattak said that when they moved in here, “We had no idea we would be so vulnerable that we will be dependent on others for something as basic as food. We were never that poor.” This struggle for food and supplies is just one part of the survival drill though.
Spotted rubbing mustard oil in the sun on his grandmothers weakening bones, Zulfiqar Ali - another teenage boy in one the camps here – told Dawn.com about the multiple health issues she has been facing. Crippled and old, she cannot walk anymore without support. Her plight is the worst because there are virtually no government or NGO schemes that address women’s health issues. Their family recently had to spend a lot of money for her private medication but discontinued her treatment as they could not afford it anymore. A lot of women in IDP camps have also faced issues with child birth and other maternity health issues.
Most of Zulfiqar’s friends who he studied and played with now live in Peshawar, Islamabad or Karachi. These IDPs could afford to move to the city where their fathers have started small vendor businesses or taken advantage of labour opportunities. Zulfiqar’s family could not move since they did not have enough money to afford the whole family migrating to another city.
“They keep saying they provide everything, but that’s just a lie. Look at my house, my children, am I a criminal if I want to feed them?”Ali and Zulqar are just two boys amongst roughly 60,000 other IDPs currently living in Jalozai and their family’s suffering is just one face of what 5,000 other families are going through. These IDPs used to have a life. They had their own businesses, cattle, farms, and other ways of livelihood. Their homes and entire neighborhoods have now been bombed, and they now live a life lent to them by foreign NGOs inside donated tents and on dilapidated charpoys. They live on donated water, donated food, donated blankets, donated medicine and dwindling charity offered to them by strangers they have never met.
“There is no dignity in this. I miss my real life.” Ali’s father sits on a jute box outside his tent, his forehead deeply wrinkled and his skin thickly dark around his eyes. “I had never imagined what it is like to depend on other people’s charity. Back home, I could sufficiently feed my large family even when my business was down, it never so happened that we don’t have food to eat,” says Khalid, laughing bitterly. He had a business in the mining industry and made quite a decent living trading stones. Three years after moving to Jalozai, he has used all his money and no idea when he will be able to go back to the life he once ‘temporarily left’. As he tells his story, he can’t stop himself from crying.
The family of 40-year-old Mukarram Khan has not received food supplies for a week now. Their ration card has been disqualified. He is accused of being agile and of cornering water and other meagre resources. His family will not be able to eat, until his ration card is reissued to him. “I have a large family to feed, and they never give enough food to us,” he said. “They keep saying they provide everything, but that’s just a lie. Look at my house, my children, am I a criminal if I want to feed them?”
When it rains in Jalozai, it gets worse, as it turns the vast field into a mixture of thick mud and raw sewage.
The tiny stone and rock stoves usually placed outside every tent don’t work in the damp and the tents tussle with the wind.
"Everything is destroyed," Zulfiqar Ali says of the home he left behind. He doesn't know what happened after he left, but he is told by others that his home was razed to the ground in the operation. He doesn't know when he'll be able to go back. “I had no idea, one day, my biggest dream would just be being in my own home.”
The possibility of his dream coming true seems sadly small, given the current situation. The Jalozai IDPs aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Kiran Nazish is an independent journalist with in interest in conflict issues and resolution. She has traveled across war zones within the country to relate stories of victims. Follow her @kirannazish