26 October 2005

UN Reports Relief Agencies Race to Reach Survivors in Pakistan before Winter Arrives

ISLAMABAD/NEW YORK, 25 October 2005 (OCHA) -- Relief agencies trying to get aid to the millions of earthquake survivors in Pakistan's northern provinces are racing against time, as snowfall is expected in the next three weeks, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported today.  With bad weather conditions forecast for the coming days, communities in the remotest areas are still out of reach, even with air resources able to move ever closer to allow increased sorties.  The official death toll is now just over 51,000, with nearly 75,000 injured.

Shelter remains the greatest priority, especially as information is received daily detailing yet more towns nearing 100 per cent devastation.  For example, in Batagram, it is estimated that 90 per cent of structures in Bagh have collapsed, as well as almost 100 per cent of structures in the Nasera district of the Jhelum Valley.  Two hundred thousand tents are in the pipeline and several camps have been sent up.  Humanitarian agencies and the military are working together to pilot alternative solutions such as shelter repair kits and the use of locally available scrap metal.

Camps for displaced persons vary in size from small family clusters to three camps in Muzaffarabad with a capacity of up to 6,000.  The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) airlift of aid items from the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will bring 15,000 tents in the next couple of days.  A further 210,000 winterized tents are needed for homeless families along with blankets, stoves and fuel.

The United Nations agencies have been undertaking rapid assessment missions in the Neelum and Jhelum valleys, where thousands of people require urgent medical assistance, clean water and shelter.  However, the logistical challenges for delivery are reported to be significant, with access roads blocked by landslides and not expected to be cleared for several weeks.  Many survivors are collecting aid and taking it home on foot.

Food rations are now reaching some towns on a regular basis and the World Food Programme (WFP) is working with partners such as the non-governmental organization GOAL and the local National Rural Support Programme (NRSP) to set up a supply line for the affected areas before they are cut off by snowfall.  Nearly 60,000 kilograms of flour and over 34,000 kilograms of pulses were delivered to the Muzaffarabad and Bagh districts on 23 October.  Mules, rafts, and hikers are still being used to facilitate distribution, as well as helicopters where possible.

Although safe water and sanitation have been restored in parts of Muzaffarabad and Bagh, the agencies working in the sector report severe damage to the system in Bagh. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) have sent in repair teams and have arranged solid waste disposal with the help of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the non-governmental organization Oxfam. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Pakistan's Ministry of Environment have also delivered treatment plants for Bagh.

Health care is being brought to stranded communities by mobile clinics operating in villages, as well as in the main relief hubs.  While there is more capacity in the field hospitals in larger towns, priorities continue to be more winterized tents for patients, basic medical equipment for the smaller clinics, and the need for a field hospital in Batagram, where the local facility has been severely damaged and is not fit for use.  Two thousand patients are being treated daily in the city.

Abbas Hospital in Muzaffarabad now has enough tents and beds to serve 200 post-operative patients.  The UNICEF, Médecins sans Frontières and Turkish medical teams have immunized over 13,000 children in the town against measles and other diseases.

The humanitarian hubs in Muzaffarabad, Mansehra and Bagh are holding regular coordination meetings for the organizations working in the various aid clusters. The United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) teams in those locations are also liaising with the military and the Government, monitoring the security situation, gathering data and coordinating rapid assessment missions to remote locations.

Detailed information on the humanitarian relief operation is available on www.un.org.pk , and daily situation reports can be accessed at www.reliefweb.int .  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; Elizabeth Byrs, OCHA Geneva, tel.:  +41 22 917 2653, mobile:  +41 79 473 4570.

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