Homelessness in own homes PESHAWAR: When 45-year-old Fazal Rehman along with his family reached his village in Kurram Agency from Kohat after six hours of troublesome journey on an uneven and tough terrain, what he saw was not less than a shock. He had come back with his eight-member family to his native land after seven years. It didn’t resemble the home he once had.
He had been forced out of the village due to conflict between the security forces and militants. He had moved and taken refuge in a rented house in Kohat district since then. All these years the family has been hoping that their sacrifice would not go waste and one day they’ll have roof on their head in their own hometown.
After living like refugees away from home, they are once again faced with homelessness in their own hometown after the return. All they see is destruction. The six-room house made of mud and stone is something they could hardly call home as only one shanty room is left of a huge mud-house.
Rehman’s family now also faces another dilemma in their village Karra, situated on an altitude of 9,000 feet from the sea level. The mud and stone made structure didn’t resist tough weather conditions and collapsed.
“The situation has forced me to accommodate my family in one ramshackle room to protect children from brutal cold that will start in mid-August,” says Rehman who hails from Alisherzai tribe.
Like other thousands of displaced families he has not gotten a tent from the disaster management agency to make temporary shelter for the family. “More than 4,000 mud and stone made houses have caved in completely or partially in Karra and its surroundings,” he says.
Rehman’s family is homeless in their own village after seven years. It dawned on him that life in displacement in Kohat had been far better because at least they had electricity, telephone and his children went to school and drinking water was easily available.
“Here (Alisherzai) schools have destroyed and teachers are not available. I am sending my children back to Kohat to continue their education,” says Rehman.
Fata’s Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) sent over 13,000 families of Alisherzai tribe back to their homes in Central Kurram in July. Officials said that the resource-starved FDMA could arrange tents for only 1,600 families out of the total 13,000 displaced families in Central Kurram.
The internally displaced persons (IDP) have been made to return to their native lands in Central Kurram without providing them basic facilities like tents, drinking water, health and education. Schools, basic health centres and drinking water supply system were damaged in the conflict that started in 2009.
The returning process of the IDPs to Central Kurram began in 2011 when security forces cleared some areas of militants. But line departments of the Civil Secretariat Fata and other agencies did not start immediate rehabilitation and reconstruction activities in the area to fulfil the basic needs of local population.
Muhammad Zaman, an elder of the Alisherzai tribe, says the gravity-fed water supply schemes have been destroyed in the conflict and not yet repaired. He says the most immediate problem is provision of drinking water and people fetch water from springs situated hundreds of meters deep.
He said Alisherzai with around 40,000 population had two middle schools that had been destroyed in the military operation while high school is under construction. Same is the condition of health facilities, he adds.
“What will local people do in Alisherzai when there is no shop, no school, no agriculture and no health facility,” complains Zaman, adding that even tents have not been provided to arrange makeshift classes for children.
The same problems exist in other conflict-hit areas of Fata. Reports from North Waziristan, South Waziristan and Khyber agencies say people are confronting with the issues like shortage of drinking water, health and education.
Return of the IDPs to five tribal agencies — North Waziristan, South Waziristan, Khyber, Orakzai and Kurram — is in progress. The government has sent 325,960 displaced families back to their homes in these five areas while the remaining 121,964 displaced families will return by the end of November.
The entire state machinery has focused on three tribal agencies — North Waziristan, South Waziristan and Khyber. The army is executing rehabilitation and reconstruction activities in North and South Waziristan agencies.
Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif is taking personal interest in these two tribal agencies and he along with foreign dignitaries regularly visits these areas. The UAE and USAID are injecting funds in these areas because of the military intervention.
Army’ units and other line departments are carrying out damages need assessment surveys, reconstructing and rehabilitating education institutions, hospitals, roads, bridges, water supply schemes and mosques. The army has built three cadet colleges, chain of army public schools, commercial hubs and solar energised drinking water. Khyber Agency has location advantage and the governor frequently visits Bara.
The Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Unit (RRU) is overseeing all activities in conflict-stricken areas of Fata at a cost of Rs5.4 billion.
Kurram and Orakzai are left at the mercy of line departments which neither have the capacity nor will to rebuild damaged infrastructures. People have no tents, no drinking water, no electricity, no school and no health facilities. Each affected family has received Rs25,000 cash assistance and food ration for six months.
Programme manager Shakeel Iqbal told Dawn that the RRU had released Rs42 million for Kurram and Rs159m for Orakzai to rehabilitate water schemes. “Funds have been released and now this is line departments’ job to start immediate rehabilitation work,” he said, adding that tendering was a lengthy process in the public sector and it would take six to seven months.
Just as this one house (Fazal Rehman’s) made in years with love, sweat and blood, went down just like that, towns have been destroyed in military operations against the militants in tribal areas. As slowly life is coming back to these areas, there is more need for providing these families a solid and sound ground to start life anew than leaving them waiting for tents in long queues in their own home.