February 3, 2006

UN seeks money to keep Pakistan quake relief flying

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Friday it
needed more than $100 million to keep a fleet of helicopters
assisting earthquake recovery operations in northern Pakistan
flying for the rest of the year.

The plea for funding from the U.N. World Food Programme
came as another aftershock rocked the earthquake zone
overnight, underscoring the hazards to survivors of the October
8 quake and a major international relief operation.

There were no reports of casualties or damage from the 5.0
magnitude tremor, but some of more than 1,600 aftershocks since
October's devastating 7.8 magnitude quake have triggered
landslides that have hampered relief work.

A spokesman for the U.N. World Food Programme, which has
been responsible for aid flights, said it needed another $15
million to keep emergency relief flights in the air until the
end of March then another $11 million a month from April to

WFP sought $181 million as part of a $550 million U.N.
flash appeal to fund emergency relief operations and so far
less than 70 percent had been provided, Amjad Jamad said.

"The flow of money has been very slow," he said. "We are
basically being paid check by check as the last one runs out."

The October disaster killed more than 74,000 people in
Pakistani Kashmir and adjoining North West Frontier Province,
as well as about 1,300 in India.

It caused countless landslides that blocked many roads in
the mountainous region and the only way to reach many remote
mountain settlements has been only by helicopter.

Jamad said U.N. organizations, aid agencies and Pakistan's
Federal Relief Commission had asked WFP to keep its helicopters
flying until December to facilitate reconstruction work.

"These helicopter operations are vital. They are the
backbone of the whole operation," he said. "Unless we get
funds, we will be forced to ground them.

"The road network will take years to repair and for people
to rebuild their lives they require materials and there is no
other way to supply them."

While helicopters have proven a lifeline, they are
extremely costly to run. Each of the fleet of 20 Mi-8s used by
WFP costs $7,000 an hour, while two giant Mi-26s -- the world's
largest helicopter -- cost about double that.

On Tuesday, NATO ended a 90-day earthquake mission, but
left behind two helicopters. It said the overall aid effort had
provided 275,000 emergency shelters, nearly enough for the
estimated three million people left homeless.

The international aid effort has averted a feared second
wave of deaths in the quake zone, but the worst of the winter
may be still to come, promising more misery for people camped
out in makeshift shelters.