October 26, 2005

Pakistan quake survivors scramble for tents

By Robert Birsel

SERAN, Pakistan (Reuters) - "They should just give us a
tent and go to hell," said Mohammad Farooq when relief workers
suggested the survivors of Pakistan's devastating earthquake
come down from the mountains to where they could be looked

"We don't want to move to any tent village," he said as he
waited hopefully in the town of Seran in Pakistani Kashmir's
Jhelum valley for a tent to take back up into the hills.

"We can't leave our homes, we can't leave our land. It's
our ancestors' place, our houses are there, our land and crops
are there."

It's an attitude adding to the frustrations of relief
workers trying to help hundreds of thousands of people in the
rugged Himalayan foothills of northern Pakistan who lived
through the October 8 earthquake which killed more than 54,000.

"Everyone is demanding tents, secondly food and thirdly
bedding," said Muhammad Mustaq Khan, a doctor who is helping to
organize relief efforts as army engineers re-open destroyed
roads into the hills.

"Just providing tents is not the solution," he said.

"Tent villages must be established and they must be brought
to the villages where we will be in a position to provide food,
nutrition and schooling until they can get established."

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) sent 600
tents to Saran and another small town in the Jhelum Valley,
which had a population of 300,000.

It dropped off 200 big, family tents with Khan on
Wednesday, then headed further up the valley to the other town
that has only now, more than two weeks after the quake, been
opened up, and delivered another 400.

"It won't be enough but it it's a good start," said Khan,
who is working out of a tent beside his damaged house.


"There's more to come," said UNHCR official Tim Irwin. "We
have convoys coming every day."

"We want to do more, but in order to do more we need more
funding," Irwin said, said shortly before 65 rich nations met
in Geneva to discuss aid for the survivors relief workers say
has been woefully short.

So short, for what experts say is a tougher relief
operation than the one after last year's Indian Ocean tsunami,
that the United Nations almost doubled its appeal for cash on
Wednesday to $550 million.

It had raised only about a third of the $312 million it
appealed for originally, prompting accusations that the world
was not doing enough.

Yet around 3 million people will need shelter from the
harsh Himalayan winter now just a few short weeks away and
enough food to survive it.

Mohammad Farooq was just one among hundreds of villagers
gathered at the gate of Khan's compound waiting for help.

"Everybody here needs tents. An aid group distributed some
a few days ago but it was complete chaos. Only the strong got
them," said Mohammad Yaqub. "My family is living under a tree
up on the hill. I only pray it doesn't rain or we will die."

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.

That leaves relief workers 150,000 short with hundreds of
thousands of people remaining cut off in the mountains, where
night temperatures are already below freezing.

"It's probably inevitable that some people will not get
these tents before the winter starts coming in," said Simon
Missiri of the Red Cross.

"They will have a choice -- either they will spend the
winter without shelter, which they won't be able to do, or they
go down to the valley which means there will be provision for
tents cities or temporary shelter in the valleys."

(Additional reporting by Aamir Asraf in SERAN and David
Brunnstrom in ISLAMABAD)