Thu, Jan 05, 2006 - Page 9 News List

Pakistani quake victims suffer a merciless winter

Rain and snow continue to afflict high-altitude areas hit by the October temblor, and supplies are inadequate

DPA , ISLAMABAD

Incessant rains and meters of snow in some earthquake-hit regions are continuing to pile misery upon tens of thousands of people in northern Pakistan and Kashmir.

Recent reports from Peer Chenassi, Bagh and Neelum Valley in Kashmir and Kaghan and Balakot in northern Pakistan said the areas were in the grip of severe cold as rains that began on the eve of the New Year turned into snow, particularly in regions above 1,524m altitude.

The inclement weather not only triggered several landslides in high-altitude mountainous villages, but also forced the suspension of relief operations from road and air. Even large US Chinook helicopters were unable to fly into the foggy and heavily overcast areas.

At least three people, including two girls, died of cold in tent villages set up east of Islamabad for internally displaced Kashmiris, while another two breathed their last in Bagh city, where even the city administration's tents collapsed under the burden of the overnight snow.

The Oct. 8 earthquake killed some 75,000 people and left 3.5 million others homeless, the bulk of whom are living in tents not suitable for harsh winters. The quake struck a 30,000km2 area in the Himalayan and Karakorum mountains.

UN deputy humanitarian coordinator Larry Hollingworth said all roads and links to villages above 5,000 feet (1,524m) had been cut off due to rain and snowfall.

"At the moment, I have no idea what the situation is over there as we have no access to those areas," Hollingworth said from his base in Batagram, a small quake-affected town on the Karakorum Highway.

Hollingworth said continuous rains have also affected two tent villages accommodating at least 7,000 people in Batagram, and that the situation could worsen if the rains and the cold spell continues.

Temperatures in these areas dip down to minus 10oC in December and January, and more rains could turn the relief operations into a nightmare for the government and private relief organizations.

Under its Winter Race program, the UN and foreign relief organizations have been rushing in materials for temporary shelters, but they are inadequate to look after all the quake victims in the area.

"I am still not sure that 100 percent of people living above 5,000 feet have got those temporary shelters," the UN official said.

The charity group Kashmir International Relief Fund said about 100 children have already died in Muzaffarabad, the devastated capital of Pakistani Kashmir, and its Bagh district.

"We had predicted this," the relief fund's Ishfaq Ahmed said, describing the deaths in the absence of insulated tents.

The International Organization for Migration says that at least 1.9 million tents need to be prepared for winter conditions for those living above 1,524m.

As many as three-quarters of the tents that were distributed in the aftermath of the quake are not suitable for such severe winter conditions, the migration organization warned in November.

The UN has so far received less than half of the US$550 million it had appealed for.

It still requires about US$45 million for urgent relief goods such as blankets and winter shelters.

James Morris, the head of the World Food Program, also complained about the slow and inadequate response to the immediate needs of disaster-stricken people.

"We had appealed for about US$100 million to provide air support for UN relief operations, but got about one-third funded so far," Morris was quoted as saying in the Pakistani Daily Times.

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