Lately we’ve been focused on the crises in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The two quite different countries have something big in common at present”in both places children are suffering terribly as a result of very adult conflicts. Fierce fighting between government forces and militants has forced scores of children and families to desperately flee their homes in search of safety.
|© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-0508/Antonia Paradela|
|Pakistan, 2009: Children wait with their families to register at the Jalala Camp for the displaced in Mardan District in North West Frontier Province (NWFP), one of three camps created in the last week to accommodate people fleeing the current conflict.|
In Pakistan, more than 1 million people have been displaced by the violence. Over half of those are children. Imagine what it’s like being a child caught up (or running from) armed conflict. Adults you look up to are acting panicked. You hear guns being fired, bombs exploding nearby. You may see people wounded and contorted in pain. You may even see people you love killed.
Families in Pakistan are flooding into hastily organized IDP (Internally Displaced Person) camps. UNICEF and its partners are providing a lifeline to children in these camps. One of our first concerns is to keep them healthy. To curb diseases that spread among refugees, we are working to get children and their families access to safe water, sanitation facilities and hygiene kits. We’ve already installed 300 water tanks and 1,930 latrines, and provided and 5,700 hygiene kits in several IDP camps.
|© Associated Press/Greg Baker|
|A boy waits in line with his father to get food at a refugee camp
in Swabi, in northwest Pakistan, Tuesday, May 12, 2009. Hundreds of
thousands of Pakistanis have fled fighting between the army and Taliban
militants in a northwestern valley.
But we also want to give children a sense of security”something they desperately need when their lives have been upended. So UNICEF is establishing child-friendly spaces and temporary schools to help them get it. We are even supplying families with lanterns and torches to keep the darkness at bay.
In Sri Lanka, children and families are also fleeing. Until yesterday, many were trapped by the fighting. Government forces had pushed the militant Tamil Tiger separatists into 2-mile square strip of land mostly surrounded by water. But tens of thousands of civilians were caught in the crossfire. They were forced to dig trenches and hunker down as best they possibly could. Hundreds were killed. And, yes, many of them were children.
Now those who escaped the fighting are crowding IDP camps where UNICEF is working around the clock to help make sure they have clean drinking water and sanitation. We’re also providing hygiene kits, emergency health kits, cooking pots, water-purification tablets, and learning supplies for teachers and students (among other things). To help children who are severely malnourished after days or weeks trapped in the fighting zone, we’re establishing nutrition and feeding centers.
Children and families who have made it to the IDP camps can at least feel safe. But as children struggle to adjust to life in crowded, makeshift conditions, one question must haunt them continuously:
When can I go home?