November 8, 2005

Cautious optimism for Pakistan quake survivors

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 October 8 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 $134
million despite a chorus of warnings of a second disaster
unless there is a faster flow of shelter supplies and medical

Despite the shortfall, U.N. officials said they were
cautiously optimistic they could get help to everyone who needs
it before the winter.

"One month on, the scale of the disaster is still emerging,
the casualty numbers are still going up and we have not reached
the final number yet," chief U.N. emergency coordinator Jan
Vandemoortele told a news conference.

"But progress is for real ... Perhaps for the first time
since October 8 there is a sense of cautious optimism in the
humanitarian community. The job is colossal, but there's a
feeling it's a doable job. It's not mission impossible."

Funds and materials were flowing in, he said.

"We see that the pipeline is gradually becoming a reality
in terms of money and in terms of deliverables -- the tents,
the blankets."

"Our objective is to keep people alive ... If we can keep
the momentum, we will be ready for the winter."

But aid workers in the disaster zone still face 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

"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.

Shelter, food and medical care are the priorities.

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

IOM official Chris Lom said 373,000 tents had been
delivered and 127,000 were on the way.

"We don't need to order any more family tents at this
point," Lom said. Although bigger communal tents for schools
and clinics were needed, he said.


Not waiting for tents, 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.

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 weeks to repair.

That means supplies have to be airlifted in by helicopter.

A U.N. official overseeing logistics, Matthew Hollingworth,
said the relief operation had enough helicopters to do the job
-- close to 100 are involved -- but the question was the money
to keep them in the air.

"We still require the resources in order to keep these
helicopters flying," he said.

Throughout the disaster zone disease is on the increase but
no major outbreak of epidemics have been reported.

"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.

A draft report by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank
put the death toll at 86,000 but a later version revised it
down to the government figure, which has remained unchanged for
nearly a week at 73,276.