A United Nations food convoy reached the Pakistani city of Abbottabad today at the start of an emergency effort to feed 400,000 earthquake survivors, many of whom have been without food or shelter since the disaster struck on Saturday.
"We are doing all we can to get this food where it is needed most as fast as possible," UN World Food Programme (WFP) country representative German Valdivia said of the emergency supplies to tide the survivors over until the establishment of a proper supply line within two days.
As the weather improves after heavy rains and mudslides, the UN relief effort is gaining more access. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has brought in relief and shelter items for up to 100,000 people, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) has already deployed 11 surgical teams and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) is delivering blankets and other items.
The access situation "is improving on an hourly basis," Hansjoerg Strohmeyer, Chief of Staff to UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland, told a news briefing in New York. Trucks are going into the area on roads that have now been cleared.
Mr. Egeland himself is due in Pakistan tomorrow.
When the trucks with 39 tons of high energy biscuits arrived in Abbottabad, 50 kilometres southwest of the quake's epicentre, WFP immediately began distribution with the help of International Rescue Committee, a non-profit, non-sectarian voluntary agency.
The four-truck convoy had left the capital, Islamabad, at dawn. A second convoy, carrying a further 40 tons, was leaving later today for Muzaffarabad, the city hardest hit by the quake, which killed tens of thousands of people, injured scores of thousands more, and left 1 million others in acute need of life-saving assistance, 2.5 million homeless and 4 million affected.
"The situation is increasingly desperate. Many areas have no safe water or electricity and food supplies are extremely limited, especially as most people have no means to cook. They are living out in the open in the mountains – and it is extremely cold," Mr. Valdivia said.
"We will be providing 1 million people with ready-to-eat food over the next month," he added.
The first two of 10 helicopters to assist the relief operation are due to arrive today, enabling rescue and aid workers to reach the most remote areas which have been cut off by landslides. Relief efforts are being further hampered by heavy rain, bringing the danger of more damage to roads and bridges.
WFP will be setting up five UN base camps in the hardest hit locations to co-ordinate the relief operation, with inter-agency telecommunications and logistical support. The agency has also flown in emergency response teams to Pakistan from around the world to help with the operation.
The high energy biscuits were flown by WFP to Pakistan yesterday from its humanitarian depot in Brindisi, Italy. A second planeload is due to leave Brindisi on Friday. In the meantime 40 tons of dates, donated by Qatar, are being transported from Quetta, in the west of Pakistan.