December 8, 2005

Pakistan quake survivors face winter crisis

By Suzanna Koster

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) - Two months after
Pakistan's killer earthquake, the focus of a huge aid effort is
on keeping survivors alive in freezing mountains and preventing
disease in crowded tent camps in the valleys.

The October 8 disaster killed more than 73,000 people and
left about three million homeless.

With a bitter winter beginning, aid officials say they face
a daunting task keeping remote settlements supplied with
shelter and food.

"We are facing a humanitarian disaster ... we are in a
crisis now," said Darren Boisvert, a spokesman for the
International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Teams from the IOM, which is overseeing efforts to get
shelter to homeless survivors, are scouring remote valleys and
still finding people in serious need of help, he said.

The IOM said last week that 90 percent of about 420,000
tents distributed in the disaster zone were too flimsy to
withstand the winter and survivors had to reinforce their
shelters with corrugated iron and materials salvaged from their
ruined homes.

Chief U.N. humanitarian coordinator Jan Vandemoortele said
that between 350,000 and 400,000 people could only be reached
by helicopter but, for now, sufficient funds were coming in to
keep a fleet of scores of aircraft flying.

After an initial slow response to a U.N. appeal for $550
million for a six-month emergency operation, $90 million came
in November, Vandemoortele said.

"If it continues we can be more optimistic but we remain
very concerned. It will be a very difficult situation," he told
Reuters. "We need $50 million to $60 million a month. The
biggest budget is flying helicopters."


The most important supplies for survivors were food and
material to help them keep warm.

"There's always a need for iron sheets because the tents
will be damaged and collapse under the snow," Vandemoortele

Authorities are hoping people living about 5,000 feet

will come down to camps on valley floors for the winter but
many have chosen to stay on their land with their livestock.

Hundreds of thousands of people are living in flimsy tents
next to the ruins of their houses across the region while about
250,000 have moved into tent camps that have sprung up in towns
and along main roads.

While the main worry is disease killing off cold, hungry
survivors, seven members of the same family, including four
children, were killed on Tuesday night when fire engulfed the
tent they were sleeping in beside their ruined home.

Vandemoortele said the tent camps had to be better

"Almost all of them need to improve. We need to educate
people about sanitation and fire hazard and we need to maintain
social order because there is a lot of frustration," he said.

While helicopters are the only way to reach the most remote
settlements, tons of supplies are also being trucked every day
along treacherous mountain roads that the snow will make even
more dangerous.

"I don't want to die in the Neelum Valley, but I have to do
this work," said truck driver Shaukat Ayub as he prepared to
set off up the valley to the northeast of Muzaffarabad, the
wrecked capital of Pakistani Kashmir.

"My family is also affected by the earthquake and they
depend on me."

Survivor Mohammad Yousuf, carrying flour from Muzaffarabad
up to his nearby village, said his family would soon have

"We've used all our savings on food and we have enough for
another 10 to 15 days," he said. "If nobody comes to give us
some we'll die of hunger."

(Additional reporting by Robert Birsel in Islamabad)