25 October 2005

Huge Challenges Remain as Post-Earthquake Relief Operations in Pakistan Enters Second Week

UN Office Puts Death Toll at Above 51,000, Thousands Isolated in Remote Areas, Homeless Total Enormous; Donor Meeting Set for Geneva

ISLAMABAD/NEW YORK, 24 October (OCHA) -- According to latest reports by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there is a three-week window of opportunity to deliver assistance to mountainous earthquake-hit areas of Pakistan before the first snowfall.  In addition, severe weather, with heavy rain, is forecast to hit the area in the next three to four days.

So far, the official death toll is more than 51,000 and the number of injuries more than 74,000.  These numbers are expected to increase still further.  Thousands of people remain isolated in remote valley areas.  Exact numbers remain unknown and the humanitarian community and Government are focusing on determining how many people still need to be reached.

A massive relief operation is under way, but efforts face unprecedented logistical challenges in approximately 30,000 square kilometres of high-altitude terrain, with many roads destroyed, and worsening weather conditions.  Other infrastructure has also been severely damaged or destroyed, including hospitals, schools, and water and sanitation networks.

Shelter remains the overriding priority, both for homeless families and patients admitted to field medical facilities.  Severe aftershocks are causing patients to evacuate hospitals at night, with the injured preferring to be outdoors rather than in already-damaged buildings.  However, current world stocks of tents will not meet needs.  Thousands more winterized tents and blankets are required urgently.  Local stocks in Pakistan have been exhausted, but production is being increased in other countries.

With 62,000 tents already delivered, around 200,000 tents will be in country by the start of the winter.  These will shelter less than half the homeless families, and will not cover the needs of field hospitals for post-operative patients.  Moreover, approximately 50 per cent of the mountainous terrain is unsuitable for tents.  Other creative solutions are being worked on, using local knowledge and available materials.

Having to wait days for basic medical assistance or undergoing operations and treatment in poorly equipped or partially destroyed hospitals has increased the rate of life-threatening infections and gangrene.  The breakdown of safe water supplies and sanitation has also increased the risk of diarrhoeal diseases and other outbreaks.  Illnesses caused by cold weather, and lack of basic services are on the rise in the Jhelum valley.  Respiratory infections should be expected to increase.

Nearly 500,000 people have received World Food Programme (WFP) high-energy food rations.  Food supplies are now reaching the main hubs, and then moved on to remote locations by mule or on foot, or are collected by survivors and taken home.  However, over 1 million people still need food.  Affected communities generally have some food stocks, as they are normally accumulated for winter.  But without proper shelter, these stocks will be destroyed or will deteriorate.  With disrupted roads, it is difficult or impossible for many affected people to replace supplies through regular means.

The United Nations will hold a high-level donor meeting in Geneva on Wednesday, 26 October, to be convened by Jan Egeland, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, in order to mobilize significant additional financial support from the international community for the United Nations $312 million Flash Appeal for the South Asia Earthquake.

For further information, please contact Amanda Pitt, Public Information Officer:  tel.:  + 92 (0) 301 532 3985, or e-mail:  pitta@un.org ; Stephanie Bunker, OCHA NY, tel.:  +1 917 367 5126, mobile:  +1 917 892 1679; or Elizabeth Byrs, OCHA Geneva, tel.:  +41 22 917 2653, mobile:  +41 79 473 4570.

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