March 30th, 2010
08:16 AM ET

Inside Asia's largest displacement camp

Camp Jalozai, Pakistan — The first thing you notice about this camp is the sprawl. U.N. tarps as far as the eye can see. And with the sun blazing already at 10 in the morning, you can only imagine how hot it gets under those tarps.

This is going to be a long summer at this displacement camp, the largest in Asia. There is a mini-heatwave stifling Pakistan right now. Along with the heat, the homeless here can expect diarrhoea, skin rashes and hours of uncomfortable living.

The U.N. officials we met were pretty straight up with us, they said conditions were quite good in the camp compared to some others around the world.

That doesn’t mean people aren’t suffering. The Pakistani government is winning praise in Washington and other foreign capitals for its year-long assault on the Taliban. But as the war rages, people here continue to lose their loved ones, their homes, their way of life. But U.N. staff pointed out they have not lost their way. (More: Refugees pay price of Pakistan's Taliban war)

There was one comment that really struck me. The U.N.’s Kilian Klienschmidt, told me that for many in this camp, “it’s as if it’s their first trip to Pakistan.”

What does he mean by that? Most of the more than 100,000 homeless here have never left their village, let alone their tribal region. Coming to this camp has been stressful and chaotic but the U.N. claims it has also been nurturing in some ways.

Men and women are learning about basic medical care, technology, education and even commerce in ways that would never have been possible. That’s not to say that these people aren’t living in misery as Pakistan’s army prosecutes the war against the Taliban. But at least there is some resolve here to create some opportunity for them.

Another thing really rattled me here. There are a significant number of cases of either mild or acute malnutrition. This is not surprising. But the U.N. says they find double the number of girls suffering from malnutrition than boys.

You’ve probably already guessed as to why. Boys are the priority when it comes to dividing scarce food resources in many tribal villages, according the U.N. And there is no use judging this kind of thing I’ve learned. Aid organizations work with it and encourage change that does not threaten cultural continuity and they hope to gradually change perceptions.

Thankfully, in this camp, all those in need can be put on a supplemental food program and most respond well.

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Filed under: Pakistan • Taliban
soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Jones

    Did you go to war? What was it like?

    April 3, 2010 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  2. CM

    "Iraq Paramedic," who writes he's from the day of "anti-Vietnam hippies" (anti-Vietnam war actually), thinks we are invading countries to educate and help people? Many people believed that during the Vietnam war, too. If you visit Vietnam today, you will find a vibrant society that is not confused about what we were doing there which was killing people and breaking things. Why did we do it? To project American power in Southeast Asia. Is it coincidental that we give Israel vast weaponry and find ourselves at odds with Muslims whose Palestinian brothers and sisters are being repressed, disenfranchised, harmed and killed by Israel? Is it surprising that the world is skeptical when we rail about weapons of mass destruction in yet another country (Iran) that opposes Israel while we are silently supportive of Israel's nuclear arsenal (the only one in the Middle East)? If violence is wrong (it is) or won't work (it won't), and if the government has sold out (it has), then the answer is BDS – boycott, divestment, sanctions.

    March 31, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Iraq Paramedic

    Hello Daniel,
    I have read several of your coments on the war & you seem to be a very angry man. Have you been a combatant in Iraq or Afganistan or are you a side line judge? You sound like one of the old anti-Vietnam hippies from back in my day. If you really thought about it you might see that if we just up & left, the bad guys would just come back, get even worse & start sending there bombers over to our shores & killing westerners all over the world at will & with more embolden courage than before. It is to everybody's benifit, the Afgan peoples also, for us & the united world powers to stay & finish & do our best to educate & help these people set up a half way modern society. Yes it is going to be hard but nothing that is good is easy. Think about that old time saying" no pain no gain". I hope & pray you find peace within yourself. May GOD Bless & keep us all!!!!!!!!

    March 31, 2010 at 5:08 am | Report abuse |
  4. rudy

    i just got back from afghanistan, understanding the culture and speaking both pushtu and farsi, hope is gone at least by the afghans
    and its because we think it takes a phD to understand but it does not it takes common sense and understanding the culture and that does not mean by the experts on cnn because they have no clue

    March 30, 2010 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Robin

    Daniel, you missed the whole point of the article. You need to reread the whole thing!

    March 30, 2010 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Faisal

    These people have been living in dismal conditions for a very long time. First they were displaced due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and now they are again going through the same routine due to this 'war on terror'. While the Pakistani elite enjoy their lavish lifestyles and get a pat on the back from foreign countries and US and other western countries are clueless when it comes to the ground reality, there is no talk or solution in sight for these people. It is shameful to say the least. It should be a priority for all privileged countries to help these people by building sustainable and livable camps where these people can feel somewhat at home. In addition, basic healthcare, proper nutrition should be available for these people. It is imperative that children have access to schools and men/women are placed in some sort of work. If this is not addressed and necessary steps are not taken then poverty and illiteracy will continue to grow and more problems will emerge.

    March 30, 2010 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  7. Daniel

    It"s about time the right-wing news media reported something beside all this sickening bravado about these stupid victories and the human side of this dispicable war,Until we do the right thing and clear out of there,this misery will only continue.

    March 30, 2010 at 8:33 am | Report abuse |