A Pakistani military assault on Taliban and al-Qaida extremists near the Afghan border has unleashed a flood of at least 190,000 displaced people who may be forced to spend the approaching winter in tents.
Pakistani authorities claim to have killed more than 1,000 militants in Bajaur. But what was supposed to be a quick military assault against the Islamic extremists along the border with Afghanistan is now in its third month.
Many of the newly displaced people are living in squalid, makeshift camps where they have no running water, no electricity, no toilets and no heat, and aid workers and officials fear that they may be trapped there for years.
Bajaur has been virtually emptied of its inhabitants, officials said. At least 10 camps run by the government now house tens of thousands from Bajaur, others have taken shelter with family and friends, and as many as 100,000 have fled hundreds of miles to the southern port city of Karachi.
A grim settlement has taken shape on a hillside outside the town of Timergara, which borders Bajaur. The month-old camp there has just started a rudimentary open-air school for younger children, taught by the older kids, and a clinic has been established.
There now are 880 families at the Timergara camp, or some 6,260 individuals, most of them children, according to the official in charge.
“We don't have enough water to drink, let alone the chance to bathe,” said Gul Mohammad, 25, who arrived with seven family members. “We brought nothing. We just came here to save our lives.”
There's no electricity, and water is trucked in. Food is distributed by the government and aid agencies, but the refugees said it was inadequate.
“First we thought this would be for a month. It looks like years to me now,” said Abdul Hameed, the Pakistani official who runs the facility. “We have stopped more coming in. There is no space left.”