October 21, 2005

Pakistani tent makers struggle to meet quake demand

By Athar Hussain

KARACHI (Reuters) - Pakistani tent makers said on Friday
they are struggling to meet a government demand for 8,000 tents
a day to shelter some two million survivors of the October 8
earthquake before winter sets in.

Hundreds of thousands of tents able to withstand a
Himalayan winter are needed for survivors of the quake that
devastated northern Pakistan and killed about 50,000 people,
aid officials say. About 1,300 people were killed in
neighboring India.

International aid groups are scouring the world for tents.

The U.N. refugee agency is airlifting 30,000 tents to
Pakistan and international Red Cross agencies are sending
another 53,000, but that's it for global supplies, the United
Nations says.

"It's still a drop in the ocean," U.N. coordinator Jesper
Lund said of the 83,000 tents in the pipeline.

"We need hundreds of thousands - at least 450,000, but
that's only a rough estimate," he said.

To try to fill the gap the Pakistani government has ordered
tent makers onto a war footing, demanding 8,000 tents a day and
banning their export and domestic sales.

But Pakistani tent makers say it's going to be impossible
to meet that target.

"The problem is that all the tent manufacturing units in
Pakistan cannot produce more than 5,000 tents a day," said M.J.
Aftab of the Sheikh Nooruddin manufacturing company.

Pakistan has about 110 manufacturing units, most of them in
the main textile cities of Karachi and Lahore, according to the
secretary of the country's tent makers and exporters
association, Nisar Ahmed.


Aftab, whose company has in the past supplied nearly
200,000 tents to the United Nations and other aid agencies for
refugees in Afghanistan and Iraq, said the government needed to
control rising cost of raw materials and ensure their smooth

Before the earthquake, according to another manufacturer,
Sheikh Tajammul, an ounce of quality canvas that cost 1.75
rupees is now being sold for 3.25 rupees.

"Some people are trying to exploit this urgent situation
and the plight of the earthquake survivors. If we don't get
controlled-price raw materials than it's difficult to meet the
government demand," Tajammul said.

Ahmed said another problem was that the price the
government will pay tent makers was too low, and the government
was demanding better quality tents, able to shelter families
from a bitter winter only weeks away.

"Normally, the tents we make are meant for normal use and
cost around 3,200 rupees. But the government has asked us to
make tents with thicker, water-proof canvas material with
double flys and iron beam support."

"These tents which can stand up to the harsh weather in the
northern areas are expensive and cost more than our normal
price," he said.

According to the tent makers' association, the wholesale
price of quality tents is around 6,500 rupees while the
government is only offering 4,500 rupees.

But Ahmed said despite the problems, Pakistani makers were
striving to meet needs.

"Despite the price and raw material problems, we've started
manufacturing tents on a daily basis to meet urgent
requirements," he said.

Quake survivors in the Indian part of Kashmir are also
facing an acute shortage of tents.

The region needed 30,000 tents but only 13,000 had been
distributed, Indian Kashmir's most senior bureaucrat, Vijay
Bakaya, told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in MUZAFFARABAD,
Sheikh Mushtaq in SRINAGAR, India)