More people could die of hunger, cold and injuries after Pakistan's earthquake than during it unless rich countries -- who met in Geneva yesterday -- come up with more money fast, a top UN aid official said.
"What we need from donors is that the time between pledge and disbursement should be one hour," UN chief aid coordinator Rashid Khalikov said as the UN announced it would ask the 65 rich nations at the Geneva meeting for US$550 million.
That was almost double its original appeal for emergency aid, reflecting the increasing desperation of relief workers racing against time to get hundreds of thousands of people under shelter and stockpile food to last them through the harsh winter.
"This disaster may have the number of people who died after the disaster bigger than those killed by the earthquake," Khalikov said outside his tent office in the destroyed Pakistani Kashmir capital of Muzaffarabad.
Underscoring the physical difficulties, bad weather in the mountains grounded the vital helicopter fleet at the main airbase near Islamabad yesterday and made life for people living in the rubble of their villages even more miserable.
With the known death toll in the Oct. 8 quake at more than 54,000, relief workers had until the end of next month to provide shelter, treat countless injured still untended and supply food, Khalikov said.
"What these communities will have by Dec. 1 is what they will have to live with," he said amid a chorus of complaints that the world was not acting fast enough to tackle a relief operation more difficult than that after the Indian Ocean tsunami.
"It's not much time. We basically have four weeks to deliver," he said after the original UN appeal for emergency relief raised only about one-third of the US$312 million it sought.
Aid agency Oxfam was the latest to criticise rich countries for not coming up with more money faster, saying some European nations had not handed over a penny -- though as a bloc the EU has given money and is promising more.
"The logistical nightmare in Pakistan is bad enough without having to worry about funding shortfalls as well," Oxfam policy director Phil Bloomer said.
"Governments meeting in Geneva [yesterday] must put their hands in their pockets and pay their fair share," he said.
"The public will be shocked that so many rich governments have given so little."
Oxfam said seven rich countries -- Belgium, France, Austria, Finland, Greece, Portugal and Spain -- had given nothing directly to the UN appeal.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf says it will cost more than US$5 billion to reconstruct the villages flattened across Pakistani Kashmir and neighboring North West Frontier Province.
But right now, relief workers are trying desperately to reach people cut off by the quake, which also left more than 75,000 people seriously injured and killed 1,300 in Indian Kashmir.
"The weather yesterday was very bad -- heavy rains and hail storms and strong winds and there was even snow on the higher mountains," International Red Cross spokeswoman Leyla Berlemont said from Pakistani Kashmir's Neelum Valley.
"They are very, very harsh conditions for the people living without shelter -- especially the young people and kids and we still have injured people being treated," she said from Rajkot, a village 2,100m up in the hills.