Tue, Nov 01, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Islamabad erects new relief camps

WINTER COUNTDOWN The Pakistani army is struggling to clear roads to allow for the Kashmiri border to open as planned next Monday to speed aid

AP , MUZAFFARABAD, PAKISTAN

Pakistanis left homeless after the Oct. 8 earthquake set up a camp using recycled advertising billboards as rain covers for their tents in the city of Muzaffarabad yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

Pakistan's army has set up two relief camps and a field hospital for quake victims along its disputed Kashmiri border with India, an army spokesman said yesterday, a day after the rivals agreed to open the heavily guarded frontier to ease the delivery of aid.

The field hospital and one of the camps are in the town of Chakothi, one of the five points where residents will be allowed to cross the border from next Monday, said Farooq Nasir, the army's spokesman in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan's part of Kashmir.

India has already set up three relief camps on its side of the border in Kashmir.

"The opening of the five points will benefit the people of both sides," Nasir said, adding that Pakistan army engineers were speeding up efforts to clear boulders from roads leading to the five crossing points.

"If needed, heavy machinery would also be airlifted to those points to clear the roads," he said.

Relief groups and quake survivors have praised Sunday's unprecedented border deal, which allows relief goods to be sent in either direction and handed to local authorities at the crossings. Only Kashmiri civilians with families divided by the border will be allowed to cross on foot.

Sounding an ominous note, Pakistan-based militants opposed to New Delhi's rule in Pakistan also have welcomed the move as giving them easier access to the Indian side.

Two top US officials were visiting to focus on aid efforts. The relief operation is rushing to secure shelter, food and medical attention for the more than 3.3 million people left homeless by the Oct. 8 quake before the brutal Himalayan winter sets in over coming weeks.

An estimated 80,000 people have died from the quake, with tens of thousands more injured.

Mark Ward, a USAID official responsible for Asia and the Near East, was visiting quake sites by helicopter, while General John Abizaid, head of the US military's Central Command, was to meet with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and other officials.

The US recently stepped up its relief efforts, sending in 11 more Chinook helicopters to join the 17 US choppers already flying missions into the quake zone.

USAID was flying additional tents to remote villages, although aid groups have said tin roofing is also badly needed to withstand the heavy snows expected to begin falling in November. About 800,000 people still lack any form of shelter.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said yesterday that the support of the international community will be as critical in the long term as in this emergency phase.

It confirmed a donors' conference on reconstruction will be held Nov. 19 in Islamabad.

"The resources required to help rebuild the lives of those who suffered from this terrible disaster cannot be provided by one country alone," it said in a statement.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has urged nations to step up aid to Pakistan, will be among those attending, it said.

Also Monday, the first of four NATO CH-53 Sikorsky heavy lift helicopters from the German Air Force arrived to boost movement of supplies and personnel.

NATO doctors have begun preparations to set up a field hospital in the town of Bagh, while NATO engineers will clear roads, purify water, dig wells and help build temporary shelters, the alliance said a statement.

"We're working against the clock to bring aid to as many people as we can before the severe Himalayan winter is upon us," commander of the NATO disaster relief team, Vice Admiral John Stufflebeem, said in the statement. "That's what the real enemy is here -- time."

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