October 26, 2005

Pakistan quake toll could double without swift help

By Robert Birsel

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) - More people could die of
hunger, cold and injuries in the wake of Pakistan's earthquake
than during it unless rich countries meeting in Geneva come up
with more money fast, a top U.N. aid official said on

"The disaster is looming large. We have thousands and
thousands of very vulnerable people," U.N. chief aid
coordinator Rashid Khalikov said hours before 65 nations were
due to meet at the United Nations in Geneva to talk about how
to help.

"This disaster may have the number of people who died after
the disaster bigger than those killed by the earthquake," he
said outside his tent office in the destroyed Pakistani Kashmir
capital of Muzzafarabad.

With the known death toll at more than 53,000, relief
workers had until the end of November to get hundreds of
thousands of people under shelter, treat countless injured who
were still untended and provide food to last the harsh winter,
he said.

"What these communities will have by December 1 is what
they will have to live with," he said amid a chorus of
complaints that the world was not acting fast enough to tackle
a relief operation more difficult than that after the Indian
Ocean tsunami.

"It's not much time. We basically have four weeks to
deliver," he said, complaining that the U.N. appeal for
emergency relief had raised only about one-third of the $312
million it sought.

"What we need from donors is that the time between pledge
and disbursement should be one hour," Khalikov said.

Aid agency Oxfam was the latest to criticize rich countries
for not coming up with more money faster, saying some members
of the European Union -- which has given money and promises
more -- had not handed over a penny.

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

"Governments meeting in Geneva today must put their hands
in their pockets and pay their fair share," he said. "The
public will be shocked that so many rich governments have given
so little."

According to Oxfam, seven rich countries had so far given
nothing to the U.N. appeal. These were Belgium, France,
Austria, Finland, Greece, Portugal and Spain, it said.


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

But right now, relief workers are racing against time to
reach people cut off by the October 8 quake, which also left
more than 75,000 people seriously injured, and bad weather on
Tuesday was a reminder of how short it is.

"The weather yesterday was very bad -- heavy rains and hail
storms 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 feet up in the hills.

The few roads into the mountains are crumpled, covered by
landslides or swept away and some -- like that up the Neelum
valley -- will take weeks to repair, leaving helicopters as the
main means of delivering food and shelter.

But 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. Hundreds of thousands of people remain cut off.

Night temperatures are already below freezing in the hills.

Relief officials on the ground say aid is flowing in
faster, although it remains insufficient, and more arrives each

Talks with India on the acutely sensitive issue of opening
the de facto frontier to help relief efforts are scheduled to
begin in Islamabad on Saturday. The quake killed 1,300 people
in Indian Kashmir