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For Afghan Refugees in Pakistan, Floods Mean Starting Over in a Home Away From Home

The unprecedented flash floods, which left behind a trail of destruction in northwestern Pakistan and continue to wreak havoc along the heavily-populated flood plains further south, uprooted a mud-house settlement of Afghan refugees in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province.

“Like all people in this sprawling settlement along the River Kabul, I have also lost to the waters everything which I could put together during the past 30 years,” said 25-year-old Inayat, an Afghan refugee living in KPK who’s family lost their mud house to the flood waters. “The floods have ruined our lives. We will have to start from the scratch again”.

Inayat’s family settled in the Azakhel area of KPK after fleeing Afghanistan in the wake of the Russian occupation in the late 1970s. He was born in a house that now lies in a pile of mud and rubble amid collapsed houses. Azakhel lies just a few miles west of the district town of Nowshera, one of many areas served by International Medical Corps’ mobile medical teams.  Inayat and his family are just a few of the thousands of flood victims in the area receiving medical care from our local teams.

“I received treatment for my children from a medical team of International Medical Corps’ in Nowshera. Other relief organizations and government agencies set up medical camps along the main road but didn’t visit the affected localities,” said Inayat who has had to stop working to help his family recover their belongings from the wreckage and build a temporary shelter. He notes that many of his neighbors who are also clearing wreckage have contracted scabies and skin infections from the water.

Although no epidemic of any communicable disease has been reported so far from flood-affected areas, the number of cases of acute respiratory infection, acute diarrhea and skin disease remain the top three diseases treated by International Medical Corps’ teams.

“The children and women mostly suffer from diarrhea and respiratory infections after the floods. The men who pull out the items from the wreckage have caught skin infections and scabies,” said Toora, a young Afghan who rolled up his sleeve to show an infection on his arm resulting from working in the contaminated waters.

“Our mobile clinics are meant to relieve the suffering of all flood victims in Pakistan including Afghan refugees,” stressed Jehangir Ali Khan, International Medical Corps Country Director in Pakistan. “We are on the ground responding to the immediate health care needs of the flood affected people through 18 mobile teams. We have been operating in the flood-hit areas since July 30 to cope with the calamity.  Afghan refugees are also visiting our mobile clinics and should continue to seek our free services.”

Provincial Minister of Information, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, reported the death toll in KPK at 1,052 with 1,079 injured. At a press briefing in Peshawar on Friday he relayed that the floods rendered nearly one million people in 581 villages in the province homeless.  Destruction of the Azakhel camp, which houses approximately 23,000 Afghan refugees, has left a great need for basic resources and medical care.

International Medical Corps’ mobile teams are operating in three of KPK’s hardest-hit districts – Charsadda, Nowshera and Peshawar. Teams also set up a waterborne disease treatment center in the District Headquarters Hospital in Nowshera and plan to establish two similar centers in the town of Mardan, about 10 miles north, to cater to growing health care needs. International Medical Corps is also planning to extend operations to additional provinces including Sindh as funding permits.

“The 12-feet high water mark on one of the standing mosques in the settlement explains it was the worst deluge which swept away everything that came its way,” said Amir, who was born and raised in a mud house in Azakhel. “The destruction is unprecedented”.

International Medical Corps has been operating in Pakistan since 1984, providing primary health care services and water/sanitation facilities to displaced Pakistanis as well as to Afghan refugees in the frontier areas.

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