December 2, 2005

Most Pakistan quake tents can’t withstand winter

By Robert Birsel

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Most of the tents handed out to
Pakistani earthquake survivors are incapable of withstanding
the winter and the focus of relief efforts is now on other ways
to ensure people stay warm, aid officials said on Friday.

The October 8 earthquake killed more than 73,000 people and
left up to three million homeless. The worry as a brutal
Himalayan winter sets in is that disease could kill cold and
poorly nourished survivors.

"Keeping the people dry, keeping the people warm, well-fed
and healthy remains a colossal job," chief U.N. humanitarian
coordinator Jan Vandemoortele told a news conference.

"The situation remains very difficult and actually we are
on a knife's edge," he said.

A huge aid effort involving Pakistani authorities, the
United Nations, the Red Cross and numerous aid groups, has been
trying to ensure survivors get proper shelter and adequate food
to survive the winter.

Tents have been delivered to mountain villages by
helicopter, truck, on donkeys and on foot in the eight weeks
since the quake struck.

"The bad news is that not all tents are providing adequate
shelter, given the weather conditions," Vandemoortele said.

"Many can be winterized, many are being winterized but some
will have to be replaced altogether," he said.

Corrugated iron sheeting was essential for helping to
protect tents, or to help families to build one room that could
be heated. Supplies of the sheets had to be maintained, he


Darren Boisvert of the International Organization for
Migration which is overseeing efforts to provide shelter, said
90 percent of the 420,000 tents distributed were not suitable
for winter.

There were just not enough winter tents in the world to
meet the need and people now had to be helped to build their
own shelter out of the ruins of their old homes, Boisvert said.

The immediate goal was to get 10,000 winter shelter kits to
people living at altitudes above 5,000 feet. The kits include
corrugated iron sheeting and other basic building material.

"The reason for this is quite simple. The more people that
we can properly shelter in these upper elevations means that
less people will move down ... into camps below," he said.

"Our main focus it to keep people in their homes," he said.

Most survivors want to stay on their land with their
animals but thousands have trekked out of the mountains to
towns in the foothills where crowded, unsanitary tent camps
have sprung up.

"I tried to rebuild my house and give my cattle shelter but
I don't have building material and I couldn't get a tent," said
one man taking his family down from their mountain home to the
low land.

The man, Mohammad Ashraf, encountered on a road in North
West Frontier Province, said he wanted to get his family
settled in a town then he would head back to look after his

Speaking earlier, Vandemoortele said towns such as
Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani Kashmir, could not take in
any more people seeking shelter.

"If the people come down from the valleys by the hundreds
and thousands, we will face a major challenge," he said. "The
population of the city is already bigger than it has ever been,
it is over full. There is no space for additional camps."

While there had been no outbreaks of epidemics or increase
in mortality among survivors since the winter began to bite a
week ago, conditions for the spread of disease were ripe.

"Acute respiratory infection, in particular, is the biggest
concern we have and that is why we focus so much on shelter."

(Additional reporting by Suzanne Koster in North West
Frontier Province)