UC Azakhel Bala
UC Nazim office at Azakhel Bala

By Haider Ali

AzakhelBala (Nowshera): Niaro is a resident of Azakhel Bala 2, a village council in District Nowshera. A poor woman with six children, she and her husband work hard to feed the family.

Recently, Niaro’s family bought a plot of land in the village. They purchased the 3 marla plot from a property dealer who charged the family PKR10,000 per marla. They paid for the land with what Niaro calls “our life savings.”

No sooner had the family started building on the land that they learnt it belonged to another person in their village. In order to avoid complications with the original owner of the land, Niaro said, they approached the dealer who had sold them the land along with some influential people of the area to solve the problem.

Compelled by the local ‘’jirga’’, the dealer agreed to give them another plot in his fields as a replacement. But to this day, he has not kept his word. Niaro and her family have continued asking him to return their money or provide a plot. Niaro said she had approached the Nazim Rehmat Ali at the local government office but he didn’t seem interested in finding a solution to her problem.

“He is using delaying tactics,” said Niaro, as her eyes welled up with tears. “I am poor and helpless. My only hope is help from Allah, as the custodians of law support the powerful.” It was not just Niaro that complained about how the system had let her down. When it comes to women, the local government system was far from responsive to their needs in Azakhel Bala 2, women in Azakhel Bala said.

Umna Bibi is a young woman from Khwar area of Azakhel Bala 2. A mother of two children, Umna got paralyzed four months after her first child was born. “I was not able to move my hands and feet nor able to do any physical activity,” she said.

Umna recovered but after the birth of her second child, she suffered the same condition again. “The treatment costs almost PKR 25,000 to 50,000 every month,” said Umna, who had to go to Peshawar to get treated. It was a lot of money for a poor family, she said. “The government should open health centers especially for women because they suffer every time they have a health problem. People here are poor and they cannot afford to go long distances to seek healthcare.”

Not having access to tertiary healthcare is a big concern among women here. They said having a “sehat card” – issued by the PTI government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to provide healthcare to people – was fine but it was only applicable at big hospitals whereas the village did not have one.

The two main issues that everyone talked about were the lack of a post office and lack of healthcare facilities. “There is no hospital to provide even services for a mild fever,” said one man in the village. The nearest hospital was in Pabbi at a distance from Azakhel Bala and that too was only a rural health centre with little equipment or staff.

Lack of hospital affected the entire population in general but women in particular. Women and children lost lives during delivery cases. The Nazim said the people of Azakhel had voluntarily given land to build a hospital on but despite promises, the provincial government had taken no practical steps.

The lack of a post office was another issue that a majority of the youth complained about. The closest post office was in Pabbi which was about 15 km away. They said on occasion they couldn’t get examination roll numbers in time due to which they missed exams. Short-listed candidates had not received interview letters for jobs and lost the opportunity.

Books and other education material did not reach them or were lost on many occasions. In case of men, they could manage to travel alone and get education material but for girl students, absence of a local post office meant losing opportunities of education and employment both. The local Nazim said he had requested representatives of the provincial government to look into providing a post office but they have not given any attention to the matter.

These problems affected the overall population but women suffered more than others. Women’s health concerns, specifically reproductive health, needed to be dealt with on emergency basis.

Women in Azakhel Bala 2 had little idea about the local government institutions and steps taken to ensure their participation in the development process. They didn’t know about their basic rights and unaware of services provided by the local government institutions. One woman, a teacher, said that the government should provide them the information about budget for different development projects.

She said the local government planning body had decided to build community schools in her area but failed to build one. To inquire about the issue, she said, “I visited the Nazim’s office to seek information about the project but they refused to give me any information.”