Pakistan Earthquake Relief Still at the Lifesaving Stage

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, October 17, 2005 (ENS) - The large number of people injured in the October 8 earthquake that shook Pakistan is overwhelming the current capacity to treat them, and the latest report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warns that many of those injured may not be treated in time and death toll is likely to rise.

The official death toll in Pakistan now stands at 38,000, but some local officials are guessing it could double as remote villages are reached and bodies now covered by rubble are found.

Medical officials and doctors in the affected areas are racing against time to help the thousands of injured who have not yet been treated, or cannot be reached. The need for mobile operation theaters is still in effect.

Some injured have been coming down the mountains on foot and doctors are now seeing patients with infected open fractures and gangrene. The lack of clean water increases the risk of spreading infection.

Mercy Corps doctors and support people are walking out into the remote areas isolated by landslides covering the roads. "We're going to go by foot up into the country, where people haven't been able to get any aid yet," said Mercy Corps senior communications officer Cassandra Nelson, who is trekking in with the doctors. "Some people have been able to walk out themselves to get help, but anyone who's injured hasn't been. So, you're up there - you're in the foothills of the Himalayas, and I imagine that even a lot of the villages are in pretty inaccessible, steep areas."

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Mercy Corps senior communications officer Cassandra Nelson is walking in to remote villages, bringing medical help. (Photo courtesy Mercy Corps)
The World Health Organization (WHO) is appealing to the international community for a large quantity of water as it is expected that the lack of safe drinking water will become a major health risk soon.

Water tanks and latrines need to be set up and solid waste collection needs to be initiated immediately, the WHO said. The main risks are now: diarrheal illnesses and lung diseases, in addition to non-treatment of survivors' injuries.

Donations to assist the relief effort have been slow in coming. So far, only US$6 million in cash contributions towards the $272 million UN Flash Appeal have been confirmed. While recognizing the "invaluable in-kind donations" that have been made, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said, "It is critical that announced pledges be confirmed as quickly as possible."

A storm has claimed the lives of six Pakistani troops in Kashmir north-east of Bagh when their helicopter crashed in heavy rain and wind.

Continuous rains on the weekend slowed relief operations. Heavy clouds and bad weather have kept relief helicopters on the ground, and most roads in the region are still blocked by landslides.. More storms are forecast as winter falls over the mountains.

"Temperatures are dropping to below zero and hypothermia is becoming a risk to thousands of destitute people sheltering under plastic tents," OCHA said.

At least 20,000 of the fatalities are from Balakot, where all of the remaining 380,000 residents are homeless, and 90 percent of the buildings are now rubble. But roads to Balakot are now open, and on Sunday, rescuers with the Pakistani army recovered four children, including two babies, alive from under the debris that was once their Balakot home.

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A young girl stands in front of the remains of a primary school on the outskirts of Balakot, one of the towns hardest hit by the earthquake. (Photo courtesy UNICEF)
Airports and roads in the area remain congested. Officials are attempting to establish a dedicated UN helicopter database and to agree on a common warehouse concept. Another urgent priority is to improve commodity tracking information, both incoming and outgoing.

At Chaklala Airbase Saturday, President General Pervez Musharraf told reporters that Pakistan needs financial help from the international community to rebuild the affected areas that covers more than 20,000 square kilometers.

"We require colossal finances for reconstruction efforts, we need international assistance, we also need assistance in the form of pre-fabricated houses, schools, colleges, hospitals so that we can erect them quickly and bring life back to normal," he said.

The President said a tent city is being established near the hard hit city of Muzaffarabad to provide shelter to 500,000 people rendered homeless by the quake.

Oxfam announced Friday that it has taken over an entire tent-making factory in Lahore. The international aid agency said it has bought up the whole production line of the tent factory in Lahore to help supply 20,000 tents that Oxfam will distribute. This factory will produce almost 100 tents per hour and once made they will be distributed to those in need.

Nick Roseveare, head of emergencies at Oxfam, said that it was very difficult to reach those in need. " This isn't a logistical headache, it's a nightmare scenario. Not only did the earthquake happen in an inaccessible and remote area, it happened just before winter - when snow cuts off huge areas and temperatures plummet dangerously low,” he said.

“We need to get thousands of heavy tents and blankets into remote areas along roads that were barely passable even before the earthquake - and we need to do it quickly," said Roseveare.

Oxfam is flying in another heavy lift helicopter to help get aid to the most remote areas. The Mi- 8T can carry 4 tons of aid per flight, 22 aid workers and at a speed of 250 kph is the fastest possible way of getting aid to people in urgent need.

Meanwhile, OHCA says many tents being delivered are not up to standard for winterization and are failing to provide adequate shelter for victims. Local stocks are now exhausted, but 16,000 tents have been delivered and up to 70,000 tents are on their way.

The UN has produced, “Tents-A Guide to the Use and Logistics of Family Tents in Humanitarian Relief” with a section on cold weather standards that can be found at http://ochaonline.un.org/DocView.asp?DocID=2112. Hardcopies can be obtained from OCHA at lsu@un.org.

All relief organizations arriving in Pakistan are requested to contact the UN Emergency Coordination Centre, Islamabad, UNICEF building, 90 Marghala Road, F 8/2, in order to obtain and exchange relevant information on contact details, meeting schedules, cluster updates, maps, etc. All details of arriving relief commodities should be channelled through the cluster coordination groups at: www.un.org.pk.

The death toll is rising too in Jammu and Kashmir, India. The government reported 1,297 casualties on Saturday. Over 32,000 buildings are reported to have been damaged.

The Indian government has not requested international assistance.