Thu, Nov 10, 2005 - Page 9 News List

Time is one thing quake victims no longer have


Seldom before has the UN felt the need to call with such desperation on the international community to help following a disaster. And seldom has the response been so meager.

One member of staff of UNICEF, the UN children's organization, says she has never seen a catastrophe of this order where money has been in such short supply.

Tuesday marked one month since the devastating earthquake brought misery and suffering to Pakistan, but three quarters of the emergency aid needed is lacking. Soon it will be too late for these supplies -- if they should ever arrive.

Tens of thousands who survived the earthquake are facing a miserable death as a result of the poor international response to their plight. The harsh mountain winter is due to set in within days in the worst affected region, and the predictions are that this winter will be a hard one.

According to official figures, more than 73,000 people died in Pakistan as a direct result of the Oct. 8 earthquake and almost 3 million were rendered homeless.

Many of them now face the ice and snow of winter without any protection.

The desperate situation in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir is unique, according to the UN's emergency aid coordinator, Jan Egeland.

"If people are dead by next year, reconstruction is of no use," he warned.

UNICEF believes a second wave of deaths could sweep through the children of the region.

Despite the urgent appeals from the UN, only around a quarter of the aid called for has been delivered. The UN requested US$550 million, which is seen as a relatively conservative estimate.

If more money is not given, the prospects are almost inconceivably grim. A situation looms where there are aid workers, medicines and food available in Pakistan, but no fuel to power the helicopters to transport them to where they are needed.

It is scarcely any wonder that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf sounds desperate.

He told the BBC that the misery caused by the earthquake was greater than that caused by the tsunami that hit Asian coasts at the end of last year.

"I would say the damage here is much more, the magnitude of the calamity here is much more," Musharraf said.

Those floods directly affected thousands of Western tourists, helping to drive up the sums donated to help the affected regions. But now poor people in cut-off regions are the ones that are suffering.

The Pakistani leader asked the world to realize that it was these people that needed help much more urgently, because they were poor and faced much harsher conditions.

Initially Musharraf ruled out cuts to Pakistan's large military budget, despite the lack of funds to help the earthquake victims. But now he has reconsidered and has postponed the purchase of more than 50 US F-16 fighters, valued at US$40 million apiece, even though the military is very keen to have them. He said the country had to concentrate on helping the earthquake victims.

But the Catholic aid organization Misereor has begun to doubt whether it is possible to assemble the necessary supplies before it is too late.

The earthquake threatens to become a "forgotten catastrophe," Misereor says, criticizing the poor donor response.

"The catastrophe is on the way to disappearing from consciousness," it says.

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