October 26, 2005

New Pakistan quake aid pledged after grim warning

By Robert Birsel

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) - Donor governments
promised half a billion dollars of new earthquake aid to
Pakistan on Wednesday after U.N. officials warned that hunger,
cold and injuries might kill more people than the quake itself.

But millions of survivors with little food or shelter were
left guessing how much would reach them before winter snow
blankets the remote Himalayan valleys of Pakistani Kashmir.

The U.N. recorded an initial $525 million in new aid
pledges at an emergency conference in Geneva of around 60
nations on the aftermath of the December 8 disaster. The
organization had earlier doubled its appeal target to $550

"We needed the money yesterday," United Nations emergency
relief chief Jan Egeland told a Geneva news conference.

Officials warned that only part of the new money was
earmarked for emergency relief like food, medicine and tents,
with most being set aside for later reconstruction efforts.

Relief workers are racing against time to get people under
shelter and to stockpile food to last them through the winter.

Some U.N. agencies had run out of cash, Egeland said, amid
a chorus of complaints that the world was not helping enough.

Doctors are having to amputate the limbs of many survivors
because they have gone so long without help, he said. Many more
lack shelter as night temperatures plunge below freezing, with
the full force of winter only a few weeks away.

"This disaster may have the number of people who died after
the disaster bigger than those killed by the earthquake," U.N.
chief aid coordinator Rashid Khalikov said at his tent office
in the wrecked city of Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani

Bad weather in the mountains grounded the vital helicopter
fleet at the main airbase near Islamabad on Wednesday.

With the known quake death toll at more than 54,000, relief
workers had until the end of November to provide shelter, treat
the countless injured and supply food, Khalikov said.

"What these communities will have by December 1 is what
they will have to live with," he said.

"We basically have four weeks to deliver."


Aid agency Oxfam was the latest to criticize rich countries
for not coming up with more money faster, saying before the
Geneva conference that some European nations had not handed
over a penny -- though as a bloc the European Union has given
money and is promising more.

"The logistical nightmare in Pakistan is bad enough without
having to worry about funding shortfalls as well," Oxfam Policy
Director Phil Bloomer said.

"The public will be shocked that so many rich governments
have given so little."

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has said it will cost
more than $5 billion to rebuild villages flattened across
Pakistani Kashmir and neighboring North West Frontier Province.

But right now, relief workers are trying desperately to
reach people cut off by the quake, which left more than 75,000
people seriously injured and also killed 1,300 in Indian

"The weather yesterday was very bad -- heavy rains and
hailstorms and strong winds and there was even snow on the
higher mountains," International Red Cross spokeswoman Leyla
Berlemont said from Pakistani Kashmir's Neelum Valley.

"They are very, very harsh conditions for the people living
without shelter -- especially the young people and kids and we
still have injured people being treated," she said from Rajkot,
a village 7,000 ft up in the mountains.

The few roads into the mountains have been blocked by
landslides or swept away. Some, like the one up the Neelum
valley, will take weeks to repair, leaving helicopters as the
main means of delivering food and shelter.

The fleet of aid helicopters, although growing, cannot
reach them all, or deliver enough. Up to 3 million people must
be sheltered and fed through the winter and more tents are
needed than the world can supply in time.

About 450,000 tents are needed, nearly 100,000 have been
distributed and another 200,000 are in the pipeline, said Bob
Mckerrow of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red
Cross Societies, which doubled its aid appeal to $117 million.

Salman Shah, financial adviser to Pakistan's prime
minister, urged aid groups to accelerate their efforts, in part
to prevent extremists from gaining support among the needy and

He said they must hurry "so that organizations that may
have their own agendas are not going to exploit the situation."

"The scale of this tragedy almost defies our darkest
imagination," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the Geneva

Annan said Pakistan's scramble for aid showed the need for
the U.N.'s planned permanent Global Emergency Fund, which is
intended to rush relief to disaster sites at a moment's notice.
U.N. officials expect the fund to be operational by early 2006.