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Battle to avert more deaths in quake-hit Pakistan

November 5, 2005

By Simon Cameron-Moore

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) – Underfunded aid agencies
were struggling on Saturday to head off a second wave of deaths
in Pakistan as a bitter Himalayan winter closed in four weeks
after a giant tremor killed more than 73,000 people.

The United Nations welcomed President Pervez Musharraf’s
decision to postpone a purchase of F-16 warplanes from the
United States to free up more funds for emergency relief, but
stressed this did not solve a funding crisis.

“We are meeting day and night around the world to secure
more resources,” U.N. emergency coordinator Jan Vandemoortele
told Reuters. “It is not less urgent, the job is not done.”

The United Nations has been seeking $550 million from
donors for emergency work, but has received only $135 million
so far.

With three million people needing shelter and at least a
million short of food in the mountains of Kashmir and North
West Frontier Province, Musharraf has expressed frustration at
the world’s failure to respond generously.

He complained that the world had donated more generously to
last year’s Asian tsunami because many Western tourists had
been caught up in that disaster.

With aid budgets drained by disasters elsewhere and appeals
falling on deaf ears, the U.N. now has to tailor its quake
relief to the money available, said spokeswoman Amanda Pitt.

“We have to decide what we can do over next four weeks with
the money we have got,” she said. “We have the expertise and
people on ground, but underfunding will obviously impact the
numbers of people we can reach.”

“We are very worried there could be another wave of deaths,
because of disease, cold, lack of shelter and unsafe water. And
the figures from the government are clearly going to rise as
more villages are uncovered.”

The October 8 quake was the strongest to hit South Asia in
100 years and flattened whole towns and villages.

TEMPERATURES TO PLUNGE

Pakistan says its death toll of more than 73,000 could rise
as reports come in from remote areas cut off by landslides.
Another 1,300 died in Indian Kashmir.

Pat Duggan, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani
Kashmir, said organization of the relief effort had improved
enormously, but agencies were “crippled” by lack of resources.

“Right now the priority is what we can do by the end of
November for the high altitude and remote places,” she said.

Rashid Khalikov, deputy head of the U.N. operation, said
not all the tents it had available were suitable for winter,
when temperatures are expected to plunge to as low as minus 20
Celsius (minus 4 Fahrenheit).

Asked about fears of more deaths this winter, he said:
“Much depends on how far we can go on distribution of tents and
food.”

With many roads still blocked by landslides, emergency work
has relied on helicopters from the Pakistani military, the
United States and Pakistan’s other allies, but the United
Nations has said its fleet could be grounded by the lack of
funds.

Tens of thousands have taken refuge in tent camps, some set
up by the U.N., others as makeshift roadside settlements.

Last week Musharraf told people they would need to come
down the mountains as they would not survive in tents. But many
are reluctant because they fear losing their livestock and
land.

Conditions in camps are miserable, with overcrowed tents,
poor sanitation and shortage of drinking water.

Some refugees like widow Nirgus Bibi don’t even have a
tent.

“I spend my life under a plastic sheet,” she said at a camp
in a Muzaffarabad park. “Somebody gave me flour and a blanket
when I came, but I haven’t been given anything since.”

The U.N. Refugee Agency said that with not enough tents
available, it was doing what it could to provide shelter in the
form of plastic sheeting and tin roofing and sending out teams
to teach people prepare for winter as best they can.

“There are still many areas we haven’t accessed and
basically we are running out of time,” said its spokeswoman
Vivian Tan. “There is not enough time to provide ideal living
conditions — it’s just trying to save lives at this point.

“”We’ve had reports of a rise in cases of pneumonia, so
there is a real danger of people dying of winter-related
diseases.”


Source: reuters



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