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Disease, death loom in Pakistan quake zone

November 8, 2005

By Simon Cameron-Moore

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) – One month after
Pakistan’s devastating earthquake aid agencies are facing a
cash crisis as the threat of disease and death looms over vast
numbers of homeless survivors and a bitter winter closes in.

The United Nations is struggling to raise $550 million for
a medium-term program to help victims of the quake that killed
more than 73,000 people in Pakistan and about 1,300 in India.

The total response to the U.N. appeal has only been $132.4
million despite a chorus of warnings of a second disaster
unless there is a faster flow of shelter supplies and medical
aid.

Relief workers in the disaster zone are facing a logistical
nightmare with countless high-country settlements cut off by
landslides that blocked or swept away roads, and money to keep
a fleet of relief helicopters in the air fast running out.

Every day the weather gets colder, with rain and snow
forecast in areas over 2,000 metres (7,000 feet) in coming
days.

“I’ve never seen a situation where so much has to be done
in such a short time,” said Pat Duggan, head of the U.N. Office
for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Muzaffarabad,
the ruined capital of Pakistani Kashmir.

“It’s going to be a very big ask for everybody — the
Pakistani government and the international community. All we
can do is go for it,” she said.

Shelter, food and medical care are the priorities.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is
heading efforts to ensure quake survivors get at least some
sort of roof over their heads for winter.

About half a million people still have absolutely no
shelter, the group says. The international community has so far
provided 130,000 tents, the Pakistani government 240,000 and
about 175,000 are on order.

“We estimate somewhere near 60 percent of what is needed
has either been distributed or is in the pipeline … the other
40 percent we have to continue working on,” said Anneka
Timonen, IOM representative in Muzaffarabad.

But there are worries about the quality of tents on order
with many believed to be summer tents that are likely to
collapse under snow.

OPERATION “WINTER RACE”

Not waiting for tents to arrive, the IOM and International
Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have
launched operation Winter Race to deliver 10,000 shelter repair
kits to high-altitude villages.

The kits include roofing tin, tarpaulin, nails and wire,
with which villagers, many of whom who can salvage some
material from their ruined homes, can make shelters to get them
through the winter.

“These communities know how to build their shelters.
They’ve been living in these mountains all their lives,”
Timonen said.

The focus is on the Neelum valley northeast of Muzaffarabad
where 150,000 people live but their road link to the outside
world has been swept away and will take months to repair.

That means supplies have to be airlifted in by helicopter
but money to keep them flying is scarce. “The question about
helicopter funding remains a critical issue,” Duggan said.

Throughout the disaster zone disease is on the increase.

“The number one thing that we are now seeing is acute
respiratory infections,” said Rachel Lavy of the U.N. World
Health Organization. “That’s obviously a sign of the coming
winter and viral diseases — coughs and colds spreading around.

“There is also a concern about diarrhea illnesses.”

The Health Ministry says there have been nearly 9,000 cases
of acute respiratory infections, including pneumonia, more than
6,000 cases of diarrhea, 1,130 cases of dysentery and 139 cases
of tetanus, of whom 41 have died.

UNICEF says there have also been several deaths from
measles and they are vaccinating hundreds of thousands of
children to stop its spread in tent communities.


Source: reuters



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