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NATO to send troops for quake aid but no airlift

October 21, 2005

By David Brunnstrom

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) – NATO said on Friday it
would send up to 1,000 troops to help hundreds of thousands of
earthquake survivors who have been waiting for two weeks for
help in the rugged mountains of northern Pakistan.

But the measures announced fell short of matching an appeal
from a top U.N. aid official who on Thursday urged the alliance
to mount a massive airlift to rescue stranded survivors on the
scale of the 1948-49 Berlin airlift to the beleaguered people
of Soviet-blockaded West Berlin.

“There is no question of the alliance doing that. That was
Berlin after World War Two and this is Pakistan now — there is
absolutely no comparison,” said one NATO source.

Top U.N. aid official Jan Egeland, incensed by what he saw
as a woefully inadequate response to the most difficult relief
operation the world has seen, had called on the military
alliance to launch a huge airlift to get survivors to safety.

Helicopters are the only means of getting quickly deep into
the Himalayan foothills of Pakistani Kashmir and North West
Frontier Province where 51,000 people are known to have died.

That toll, in addition to some 1,300 killed on the Indian
side of Kashmir, is expected to climb much further with large
areas still unreached and the harsh Himalayan winter looming.
The number of known injured, now 74,000, could also leap.

NATO ambassadors agreed to send 500 to 1,000 soldiers,
including an engineering battalion, and a small number of
helicopters, an alliance official said.

A NATO spokesman said earlier that while aid work was not
the alliance’s “bread and butter,” it had already transported
over 1,000 tonnes of supplies to Pakistan’s quake victims and
40 percent of the helicopters flying there were from NATO
nations.

ROADS SMASHED, BURIED

The closest source of helicopters would be India, but it
has fought two wars with Pakistan over Kashmir, which both
claim.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf told India he would
accept helicopters, but only if they came without crews given
the enormous political sensitivity.

India said ‘No’, and U.N. aid chief Jan Egeland, in
addition to calling for a NATO airlift, said the two
governments ought to figure out a compromise fast.

Musharraf, in an interview with the BBC, defended the
decision not to allow Indian crews into Pakistan.

“There are military defense plans, there is defense
deployment here, all over, like on the Indian side. We don’t
want the military to be coming here, not at all,” he said.

The few roads into the hills were crumpled and buried by
landslides in the October 8 quake, and aid officials fear many
more people — cold and without adequate shelter — will die.

Lieutenant-General Salahuddin Satti said he hoped the road
up Pakistani Kashmir’s Jhelum valley would be re-opened in a
week but it would take six weeks for the nearby Neelum valley.

The lack of roads means supplies cannot be delivered in
significant quantity by an aid fleet of fewer than 100
helicopters. Soldiers are using mules, horses and donkeys, even
carrying supplies up on their backs. So are villagers.

U.S. army helicopters began dropping survival kits in sacks
padded with mattresses and blankets to isolated hamlets
clinging to the slopes of the Pir Panjal mountains of Pakistani
Kashmir.

TENT CRISIS

But tents able to stand up to the harsh Himalayan winter
are scarce and Pakistan pleads daily for the world to send
more.

U.N. coordinator Jesper Lund said international aid
agencies planned to send 83,000 tents — “all they have in the
world.”

“But it’s still a drop in the ocean,” he said. “We need
hundreds of thousands — at least 450,000, but that’s only a
rough estimate.”

Pakistani tentmakers said they were struggling to meet a
government demand for 8,000 a day.

So the U.N. was looking at alternatives, starting with
shelter kits of plastic sheeting, a saw, bamboo, rope, a shovel
and axes. “They are cheaper, more cost effective,” Lund said.

People are dying of injuries they would survive with decent
medical treatment. “We pass over a lot of tiny villages where
they obviously have wounded people,” said a Red Cross
spokesman.

“We see people waving clothes and asking us to stop, but
there’s nowhere to land.”

Egeland and other aid officials with experience of both
said the earthquake relief operation was more difficult than
that in the wake of last year’s Indian Ocean tsunami, which
killed more people but hit coastlines that ships could reach
easily.

He said the world was not doing enough.

The United Nations had received $57 million in firm,
legally binding commitments and $33 million in promises, toward
its $312 million appeal for Pakistan, a spokeswoman said in
Geneva.

Saudi Arabia will give Pakistan $133 million for the relief
of quake survivors and will also launch a media campaign to
raise more money, Saudi ambassador Ali S. Awadh Asseri told
reporters in Islamabad.

(Additional reporting by Mark John in Brussels and
Stephanie Nebahey in Geneva)




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