Aid Fails to Reach 200,000 Pakistan Earthquake Survivors

GENEVA, Switzerland, October 31, 2005 (ENS) - Three weeks after the severe earthquake that rattled northern Pakistan, at least 200,000 people have not received any assistance at all, the United Nations emergency relief office reported Friday. Torrential rains have hampered relief efforts and people are sleeping in the cold with no tents, blankets or clean water.

Estimates of the number of dead now range up to 80,000 people, and up to four million others have been displaced from their homes. The injured number an estimated 75,000, including many health workers. Aid workers have reported a growing sense of frustration and anger among the survivors, who feel that aid has been too slow in reaching them.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said up to 30 percent of affected villages have yet to be reached. Tens of thousands of people cut off by landslides and other quake damage from relief operations could become part of a second wave of deaths from the quake as the harsh Himalayan winter approaches.

The first snows are expected in the next three weeks, and OCHA says up to two million people are urgently in need of help, stressing the need for immediate air support to move aid to remote areas before winter.

Most relief efforts are concentrated in the north of Pakistan where the only means to get supplies to distant villages is by mule trains or helicopters. Winter conditions in the high mountain area will soon make it impossible to deliver supplies by roads, leaving helicopters as the only means of transport for supplies until storm weather grounds them.

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Searching for the missing after the 7.6 earthquake that rocked the area October 8, 2005. (Photo courtesy UN)
Thousands of people with treatable injuries have not yet received medical care, and health officials warn that they could die of their injuries if they are not reached within the next few days. People need shelter, safe drinking water and access to health care now and throughout the winter in order to survive.

"Without more help now, the second wave of deaths in Pakistan is coming," said Dr. Ala Alwan, the World Health Organization (WHO) Representative of the Director-General for Health Action in Crises. "We cannot wait to see images of people freezing to death or dying of preventable disease before we act."

Long at odds over the governance of Kashmir, Pakistan and India Saturday reached an agreement that puts the needs of earthquake survivors on both sides of the Line of Control dividing Kashmir ahead of all other considerations.

In response to a proposal made by Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf to open crossing points across the Line of Control, the two sides agreed to open crossings at five points, effective November 7.

Crossings will be permitted on foot or by vehicle where possible, and priority for crossings will be accorded to members of divided families on either side of the Line. Relief items can be sent in either direction as a humanitarian measure.

President Musharraf said he sees the joint concern for earthquake survivors as an opening for political movement on the decades-long conflict over Kashmir. "There must be discussions between India and Pakistan, involving Kashmiris, that will lead to results. I am for those results," he said in the Arab News interview, recorded Friday night. "This is an opportunity."

The President said Pakistan welcomes relief supplies from India but cannot allow Indian military personnel to cross the Line of Control.

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At a tent camp in quake-hit Pakistan, some tents are winterized, but others are not. (Photo courtesy UN)
The earthquake was the most severe in decades to hit the disputed Himalayan region administered by both Pakistan and India. Many aftershocks, bad weather and rough terrain are complicating relief efforts across the affected region.

The United Nations issued an initial Flash Appeal for $312 million and has now upped that figure to $550 million, saying the increased amount is urgently needed to address the needs of the earthquake survivors, but the funds have been slow in coming from the donor community.

At a ministerial conference in Geneva convened by the UN on Wednesday, donor nations pledged $580 million, but only $15.8 million for the UN Flash Appeal itself, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland said. The new pledges brought the total so far to nearly $1.3 billion overall, but much of this consists of bilateral donations straight to Pakistan.

"The good news is that we have very good pledges," Egeland said. "The bad news for us is that we still have very little concrete commitments to the UN Flash Appeal," told reporters.

"The public will be shocked that so many rich governments have given so little,” said Oxfam’s Advocacy Director Jo Leadbeater. Oxfam has compiled figures showing that many rich countries have so far given much less than their fair share according to the relative size of their economy as a proportion of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) total.

Seven wealthy national governments have so far given nothing at all to the UN appeal – Belgium, France, Austria, Finland, Greece, Portugal and Spain, Leadbeater said. By contrast, poorer countries such as Poland and Chile have contributed to the appeal.

Only four countries - Sweden, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Denmark - have so far given more than their fair share to the appeal. Governments that have given less than one fifth of their fair share include, Japan, Germany, the United States, and Italy.

"These people were already poor before the earthquake hit. In a matter of just a few minutes everything they had - their homes and livelihoods - disappeared," said World Food Programme (WFP) Adviser Anette Haller, who headed an assessment team in the area.

"Now they are completely desperate. We have to reach them before winter does, and that means within the next three weeks," Haller warned. The World Food Programme has so far distributed 3,000 tons of food aid to half a million people.

UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Ann Veneman began a two day visit to the quake zone on Sunday, visiting communities and meeting with Pakistani officials. Within the last 10 days UNICEF has helped to vaccinate 65,000 children against measles and tetanus.

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French C-130 takes off from Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, for Pakistan with several tons of relief supplies donated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (Photo courtesy SHAPE/NATO)
For its part, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is continuing to provide blankets, tents, plastic sheets, jerry cans and burial cloths. Its airlift from Turkey, organized in cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), is now in its 12th day and has so far delivered more than 450 tons of supplies.

"The window to reach earthquake survivors in the remote mountains and high valleys of quake-hit Pakistan is fast closing with the onset of cold weather," UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva. "This is still a life-saving operation and every minute counts."

Pakistani and international authorities have asked NATO to increase their level of assistance, and advance units of the NATO Response Force were arriving in Pakistan by Sunday.

“We are acting quickly to meet the needs of a great many people affected by this disaster,” U.S. Navy Vice Admiral John Stufflebeem said Thursday in Islamabad, Pakistan, where he is coordinating the arrival of more than 1,000 NATO troops.

“The situation in northeastern Pakistan remains serious, with rescue efforts severely hampered by the heavy rains,” NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center said in a situation report released Friday.

At least 23 NATO helicopters are now operating in Pakistan. The United States plans to provide an additional 15 in the near future, according to NATO officials.

Tariq Osman Hyder, head of Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Emergency Coordination Cell, addressed NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in Brussels, Belgium, on Thursday, asking for more assistance. His request included continued airlift, additional funds, logistics and airspace management, mobile fuel tanks, spare parts for helicopters and tactical aircraft, command and control, winterized tents and sleeping bags.

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Displaced and homeless, earthquake survivors gather around the fire. (Photo courtesy Mercy Corps)
Some aid agencies are getting creative in their efforts to reach the survivors in remote areas. Local teenagers hired by the U.S. aid agency Mercy Corps are scouting for remote villages - in some cases a four hour walk from the nearest road - that have not received any aid, particularly shelter.

Mercy Corps relief workers have distributed nearly 1,200 tents in the Konsh and Sirin valleys, home to about 200,000 people living in isolated villages often comprised of as few as 15 households.

Mercy Corps has established six health clinics that, together, are treating close to 1,000 people a day. Clinicians report a rising number of respiratory ailments - a sign of exposure in a region where night temperatures are near freezing. The agency has delivered over 18 metric tons of food to survivors.

Juan Manuel Suárez del Toro, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), visited the stricken area last week. “It is clear this is a major humanitarian disaster that requires the international community to scale up its already significant and timely response,” he said.

A revised federation appeal called for US$117 million to support the ongoing relief operation of the Pakistan Red Crescent Society in the worst hit quake areas, particularly in the remote, mountainous areas of North Western Frontier Province. The appeal aims to meet the immediate shelter and relief needs of some 570,000 people, but less than a quarter of the requested amount has been received.

"Winterized tents are the highest priority," said Suárez del Toro. "Without them many vulnerable people may die this winter. Other critical items include blankets, mattresses, stoves and hygiene articles."

To date more than 200 truckloads of IFRC relief items have reached affected areas and 9,000 tents, as well as, nearly 40,000 blankets have been distributed. In addition some 40 aid flights carrying 1,600 metric tons of relief goods, medical supplies and emergency response equipment, have been sent, and the IFRC has deployed 10 mobile medical teams.

The World Food Programme said some 2.3 million people will need food aid through winter. WFP has been using mules to reach some villages and the Pakistan Army has helped by carrying food supplies on foot. The agency is working to pre-position thousands of tons of food stocks in mobile warehouses within reach of the most remote areas.

Over the next six months the World Food Programme aims to transport 500 tons of food a day to distribution points across the earthquake zone.