Mercury dips as quake toll nears 60,000

COMPOUNDING MISERY: With the Himalayan winter rapidly approaching, UNICEF and others repeated pleas for critical help in finding shelter for some 800,000 people


Wed, Nov 02, 2005 - Page 5

The death toll in Pakistan from last month's massive earthquake has risen to more than 57,000, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz told parliament yesterday.

The Oct. 8 quake that devastated Pakistani Kashmir and North West Frontier Province was a major disaster that also left thousands injured, Aziz told the National Assembly.

Pakistan's official death toll from the Oct. 8 quake stands at 57,597, with 78,800 injured. However, central government figures have lagged behind those of local governments, who put the number of dead at about 80,000.

Another 1,350 people died in Indian-held Kashmir. An estimated 800,000 people still lack any form of shelter.

Lasting trauma

UNICEF said the dead included about 17,000 schoolchildren who had been attending classes when the quake hit.

Those who survived will likely suffer lasting trauma from the sudden loss of so many friends, teachers, and other "important people in their lives," the organization's executive director Ann Veneman told reporters on Monday.

Pakistan's government says as many as 8,000 schools were destroyed by the quake.

Meanwhile, forecasts of rain showers and light snow on earthquake-hit regions of northern Pakistan yesterday threatened to compound the misery of hundreds of thousands of people living in the open with little or no shelter.

Temperatures were expected to dip to around 7?C in the shattered town of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and as low as minus 12?C in the highest mountain villages, the Pakistan Meteorological Department reported.

Snow was expected in villages around 3,353m, the department reported.

With the brutal Himalayan winter just weeks away, the relief effort is rushing to deliver tents, food and medicine to victims before villages are cut-off by snows and helicopter-grounding fog.

The UN has warned that thousands more could die without adequate aid.

Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf defended his government's earthquake response and pledged to deliver a half-million tents to quake survivors by the end of November.

Musharraf declared that relief efforts are "proceeding quite satisfactorily," and blasted critics who have slammed his military for not moving quickly enough to help the millions of survivors of the quake centered in Pakistan's portion of Kashmir.

"I will prove the cynics wrong," he told a news conference Monday at his home in the garrison town of Rawalpindi outside the capital Islamabad.

Response criticized

Many survivors of the quake, left for days in destroyed mountain villages without any outside help, joined media commentators in criticizing the government's initial response. During the first week after the quake, the main opposition Pakistan People's Party called relief efforts an "abysmal failure."

The opposition had no immediate response to Musharraf's remarks, although the Nation newspaper kept up its criticism with an editorial entitled "Relief work in doldrums."

"There is little time left in saving [victims] from sickness and death," the paper said.

Thanking donors, Musharraf said the international community and Pakistani companies have already provided about 228,000 tents for the estimated 3.3 million people left homeless. He said 500,000 tents would be delivered to quake survivors by the end of the month.

Living under a tarpaulin propped up by debris, quake survivor Hafiz Ur-Rahman didn't think much of the president's pledge.

"The government has no chance of getting us the tents before winter," said Ur-Rahman, 55, who was sharing his crude shelter on the outskirts of Muzaffarabad with five family members.

"Everything that is being done on a large scale is being done by foreigners and non-governmental organizations. The government can help but they're not doing so good," he said.