Search and rescue winds down in Pakistan as urgent aid to survivors accelerates – UN

14 October 2005

With declining hope that there may not be many more survivors six days following the devastating earthquake in Pakistan, the search and rescue phase of relief efforts is winding down, and United Nations agencies there are now focusing much on keeping survivors alive and healthy, the chief of staff for the UN emergency relief coordinator said today, urging more funding for the operations.

Access to remote villages is still hindering the relief efforts, and rain and now the first snows of the season adding to the misery of the survivors, Hans Joerg Strohmeyer told a press briefing in New York.

People are living out in the open, and rescue workers, doctors, and other non-governmental helpers are making their way into remote hamlets by foot. Surgical equipment and supplies are in urgent need and there are reports of “dire water need and polluted water,” he said.

Funding remains far short of the goal, with $50 million committed out of the $272 million needed, Mr. Stohmeyer said. The biggest donors so far have been the United Kingdom, Sweden, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia and Ireland.

Almost 50 helicopters have now been made available for the relief operation – 20 more than were available yesterday – to ferry supplies and doctors to remote areas, and bring back survivors who have been injured during the quake, he added.

Access into the country is also improving, as the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland arranged with President Pervez Musharraf this morning to lift all customs restrictions on incoming relief supplies, and provide 3-month visas to aid workers, Mr. Stohmeyer said.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that because of the encroaching winter, keeping children survivors alive will be its first priority, and announced a $63 million appeal to support operations over the next six months.

In Muzaffarabad, the World Food Programme (WFP) has successfully distributed food items to 37,000 people. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has supplied 10,000 tents and is providing up to 6,000 blankets a day, while the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has provided an additional 15,000 tents and 220,000 blankets to the hard-hit region.

An additional truck convoy travelling from Kabul, Afghanistan is bringing 1,500 additional tents, 20,000 blankets, 15,000 sheets and 10,000 jerry cans for water. UNICEF is bringing four water treatment plants.

From Paris, UNICEF Executive Director, Ann Veneman said that with the winter conditions approaching, children survivors will now have to “face a mortal combination of cold and sickness from malnutrition.”

“The majority of houses have been destroyed in the most affected areas, putting into question the survival of millions of young children. Shelter, food, and medical care are a priority for children,” she added.

Close to one half of the persons affected by the quake are children under 18, according to the agency, and a quarter of the population lives under the poverty line.

Millions of children in the affected area are estimated to need measles vaccines, especially since their immune systems will be weakened by the cold and lack of food. UNICEF is planning a rapid deployment of the vaccine in conjunction with the Government old, along with a distribution of vitamin A to reinforce immune systems.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that the main problem in all the areas affected by the devastation is the lack of drinking water.


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