November 30, 2005

Pakistani villagers wait for tents as freeze starts

By Abu Arqam Naqash

BHERI, Pakistan (Reuters) - With winter starting to set in,
some survivors of Pakistan's earthquake are without shelter,
sufficient food or warm clothing nearly eight weeks after the
disaster struck, aid officials said on Wednesday.

The first heavy snow fell across the region at the weekend
but while there has been no spike in the mortality rate, more
deaths were inevitable unless aid reaches victims soon, aid
officials said.

The focus of the relief effort was shifting toward food,
even though shelters were still needed, said Jean-Philipe
Bourgeois, a field coordinator for the International
Organization for Migration (IOM).

"It's a combined problem. Not only food, not only shelter,
but both."

The October 8 earthquake killed 73,000 people, most of them
in Pakistani Kashmir and North West Frontier Province. Aid
officials fear sickness sweeping through a cold and poorly
nourished population will cause a second wave of deaths.

But a U.N. spokesman said there are deaths in the region
every winter from cold-related ailments and it would be
alarmist to talk of a second wave of fatalities from the cold

Chief U.N. humanitarian coordinator Jan Vandemoortele said
reports of deaths brought on by the cold since the harsh
weather began were incorrect.

"We have compared data in hospitals. We don't see any
difference in the number of people that died in Muzaffarabad
last week as the same week last year," Vandemoortele said in
Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani Kashmir.

But he said diseases such as respiratory tract infections
would increase. "Nobody can deny, and nobody will deny, that we
are facing a very difficult situation."


Haroonur Rasheed, a resident of a mountain village to the
north of Muzaffarabad, said the seven members of his family are
sleeping rough, without a tent.

"We know tents are a rare commodity but if we don't get one

we're sure to die of the cold," said Rasheed while waiting,
along with a crowd of other villagers, at a helicopter landing
pad at the village of Bheri.

Rasheed said he had been coming down from his village to
Bheri every day in the hope of getting a tent from the relief
helicopters that make regular drops there.

But these days, the helicopters are mostly bringing in
food, blankets and tarpaulins on behalf of the U.N. World Food
Programme and the IOM.

Rasheed and others said they had been supplied with food,
but with the arrival of the cold weather, it was shelter they
were most concerned about.

"We're living in a shed we have made from straw but that's
not going to work in the rain and snow. We urgently need
shelter," said Mohammad Sain, who was also waiting for a tent.

An official of the International Committee of the Red Cross
said she had taken a relief flight on Tuesday to some
high-altitude areas where it was below freezing and snowing at

"This was a very poor area where little aid has reached so
far," ICRC spokeswoman Jessica Barry said. "Women and children
were walking around barefoot."

Pakistan has won pledges worth more than $6 billion from
world donors for relief and reconstruction operations in the
quake-hit zone.

Most of that was earmarked for long-term reconstruction.
U.N. and other aid officials say funds are short for a
six-month emergency operation to keep survivors alive over the

A moderate earthquake of magnitude five struck mountainous
northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday but there were no reports of
casualties or damage, the meteorological department said.

(Additional reporting by Robert Birsel in Islamabad and
Suzanna Koster in Muzaffarabad)