Top relief official calls Pakistani quake UN’s worst logistical nightmare ever

20 October 2005

The United Nations is facing its worst logistical nightmare ever as it scrambles to save the lives of tens of thousands of earthquake survivors in inaccessible areas of Pakistan in an unprecedented race against time that dwarfs efforts after last year’s Indian Ocean tsunami, the UN emergency relief coordinator said today.

The United Nations is facing its worst logistical nightmare ever as it scrambles to save the lives of tens of thousands of earthquake survivors in inaccessible areas of Pakistan in an unprecedented race against time that dwarfs efforts after last year’s Indian Ocean tsunami, the UN emergency relief coordinator said today.

“What we need is something like no other emergency relief effort,” Under-Secretary General Jan Egeland told reporters in Geneva, calling for the equivalent of the Berlin airlift that kept Berlin alive in the late 1940s after Soviet forces cut all land access.

“If they could do that in the end of the 1940s, set up in no time a lifeline to millions, we should be able to do that in 2005,” he added of the need to rush in hundreds of thousands of winterized tents, medicine, and food and other urgently needed supplies before the situation worsened even further with the arrival of the harsh Himalayan winter.

He said 48,000 people were now confirmed dead, but the figure could be twice as high. Perhaps worse was the proportionate number of wounded, with 67,000 people severely injured. If the UN assumed this figure would also be doubled or tripled, this meant tens of thousands could die in the coming days if they were not reached in time.

Half a million people had still not been reached and 3 million had been left with damaged homes. “We are putting in all our combined UN resources at the moment. It is not enough. We have never had this kind of logistical nightmare ever. We thought the tsunami was as worse as it could get. This is worse,” he said.

“The race against the clock is like no other one. There is like a terrible cut-off for us in the beginning of December, could be even before, when there will be massive snowfalls in the Himalayan mountains.”

In the tsunami, which killed more than 200,000 in a dozen Indian Ocean nations, there was a much higher death toll, but the current emergency is the reverse with more wounded than dead people, Mr. Egeland said. There is now an exponential growth of infections, gangrene, tetanus and other diseases, he added.

So far the UN Flash Appeal has received $86 million, roughly one quarter of what is needed. Mr. Egeland said the UN had probably never been as overstretched as it was right now, as it still had to deal with old emergencies such as Sudan’s Darfur crisis, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and southern Africa, where 12 million people urgently need food aid.

“The world must be able to respond to several emergencies in parallel and at the same time,” he declared.

With Secretary-General Kofi Annan calling on international organizations to join an “immediate and exceptional escalation” of relief operations for Pakistan’s devastating earthquake, the UN refugee agency yesterday began its first ever joint, large-scale airlift with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

The first three flights in the operation, supported by the Turkish government, took off from Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey with more than 25 tonnes of urgently needed supplies, the start of an air bridge that will ferry some 860 tonnes of aid from the UN refugee agency's regional warehouse in nearby Iskenderun.

“A second, massive wave of death will happen if we do not step-up our efforts now,” Mr. Annan warned yesterday, calling for helicopters, trucks and heavy lifting equipment, 450,000 winterized tents and temporary shelters, 2 million blankets and sleeping bags, tarpaulins, ground sheets, stoves, water, sanitation equipment and food.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) reported that thousands of people had started fleeing their remote and hard-to-reach villages, seeking medical attention, food and water, as landslides and bad weather continued to impede the delivery of desperately needed relief supplies.

WFP food assistance is being transported by truck where roads are open and by helicopter and pack mules in more remote mountain areas.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) warned that the onset of winter coupled with a lack of shelter is a serious health concern that needed to be resolved quickly to avoid health problems such as hypothermia, shock and death.

 

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