UN Chief Visits Pakistan Earthquake Survivors Before Donors Meeting

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, November 18, 2005 (ENS) - "When you look at the terrain here and the logistical challenge that had to be overcome in order to get aid to the people, it is really, really, a gigantic task that we have ahead of us," said United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in Pakistan today for an international donors' conference that is seeking $5.2 billion for relief and reconstruction after last month's earthquake.

The mountainous region and oncoming Himalayan winter have complicated efforts to help the victims of the quake, which killed some 80,000 people, injured over 100,000 and left up to three million others homeless.

Annan was visiting Thuri Park Camp for survivors with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and their wives.


Tent camp near Bakalot is high in the mountains where winter is coming on. (Photo by Evan Schneider courtesy UN)
Asked in a press encounter at Thuri camp what message he would like to send to the world community, Annan said, "I would want to tell them that the situation is serious, the needs are enormous and the people affected can use all the help they can get."

"Tomorrow at the pledging conference I will appeal to the donor community and to the world to respond to the appeal for money for reconstruction, for recovery and to help people recover their livelihood and their jobs," he promised.

"The figures seem big we need $5.2 billion but when you consider the magnitude of the task it's not very much," said Annan. "I hope governments and individuals and private organizations, those with capacity will give and give willingly and generously to help our fellow human beings in need."

Annan left the camp survivors on a note of hope. "As difficult as the situation seems," he told them, "I have no doubt that you will overcome, you will rebuild and you will build even better." Annan paid special tribute to the women who, he said, often bear a heavy load.

President Musharraf thanked the entire United Nations as well as other organizations for the relief aid. "I would like to express my gratitude, from the bottom of my heart, to the Secretary-General and his wife, Mrs. Kofi Annan, for travelling so far to see on the ground what is happening here and to contribute their bit in generating all the support for these earthquake victims," he said. "We are grateful."

The Secretary-General and the President then took a helicopter tour of some of the worst-affected areas, including the town of Balakot in the North West Frontier Province, where destroyed houses were visible from the air, as were makeshift tents in which survivors huddle.

At a press conference in Islamabad, Annan was asked what had most moved him. The bewilderment of two orphans and two women who had lost members of their family, he said.


Secretary-General Kofi Annan (left) speaks with the media upon his arrival in Islamabad on Thursday. Next to him is Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmud Kasuri (Photo by Mark Garten courtesy UN)
In Islamabad, the secretary-general had a working lunch with the President and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, among others, and this evening, together with the Prime Minister, he attended a dinner for heads of delegation attending tomorrow's conference.

In a separate program in Islamabad, Nane Annan visited the Pakistan Institute for Medical Sciences where she spoke with children injured in the quake and praised hospital staff for their rapid response and their all-out effort in finding and assisting those in need of medical care.

Meanwhile, the huge airlift by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) from Turkey, which started on October 19, ended last night after its 103rd flight and 1,161st ton of supplies from UNHCR stockpiles in the southern Turkish port of Iskenderun.

But NATO's involvement with UNHCR relief efforts is not ending just because the agency's stocks in Turkey have been exhausted.

"NATO has agreed to continue flying our relief supplies from elsewhere, including at the beginning of next week more than 300,000 blankets from Amman, Jordan," spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis said.

UNHCR has so far transported over 290,0000 blankets, 22,000 tents, 33,000 jerry cans, 100,0000 plastic sheets and many tens of thousands of other relief items.

It is aiming for a total of 30 properly planned and organized camps housing up to 150,000 people. Twenty of these camps have been set up so far by the government with technical support from UNHCR and others.

In all, the agency plans to assist up to 500,000 people over six months, including hundreds of thousands who will probably remain in their damaged villages or towns, or in some of the hundreds of spontaneous camps that have sprung up beside roads or next to water sources. It is hoped that by spring, many people will be able return to their places of origin.

The UN World Health Organization said that, following several hundred diarrhea cases in earhtquake-hit Muzaffarabad, quick action was taken to bring in proper water and sanitation, improving that situation.

Meanwhile, at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Mumbai, India Thursday, Subodh Kant Sahai, the Union Minister of State for Food Processing Industries called upon concerned agencies involved in disaster mitigation and management to be "proactive than reactive."

"Prevention is safer and cheaper than firefighting, and it is better to be proactive than reactive," Sahai told delegates.

Around 300 delegates from 22 countries are attending the Conference, whose focus is on "corporate sector's role and responsibility," in disaster mitigation and management. The Conference, initiated by Global Forum for Disaster Reduction is organized by New Media Communication and managed by CMP.

"While disaster reduction is a collective responsibility, the role of corporate sector in the light of their social responsibility cannot be over- rated," Sahai said.

He said that in recent years, the increasing numbers of disasters, the recurrence of hazards like floods, drought, storms, landslides, tsunamis, epidemics, etc. had taken heavy toll on human lives.

Sahai pointed out that a UN convention held in Kobe, Japan, in January 2005 recognized the intrinsic relationship between disaster reduction, sustainable development and poverty eradication through involvement of all stakeholders.

Referring to the rise in the number of disasters in recent years, he said India was especially vulnerable in this respect. "India is particularly vulnerable to disasters, given its immense population, geographical extent, vast coastal belt and spread of rivers and mountains," Sahai said.

"Every year we witness apart from man made disasters, natural calamities like floods draughts heat and cold waves and tropical cyclones," he said.

Sahai said revolutions in communications and omnipresence of the media had made the world today more disaster-conscious than ever before.

"The media today has at their disposal all the methods and instruments that can educate and enable the people in performing their duty to nation effectively, intelligently, and speedily in times of crises," he said.

The UN world disaster reduction campaign, which was launched in 1998, underlined the necessities of enlisting the media as working partners in promoting natural disasters prevention method worldwide.