Calling the next few weeks critical for millions of survivors of Pakistan's devastating earthquake, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan sent a letter today to the leaders of all 191 Member States urging "an immediate and exceptional escalation" of the global relief effort.
At the same time, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), with its powerful airlift capabilities, told the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland that it is planning to increase joint operations with the world body in the scramble to save quake victims threatened by inaccessibility and oncoming winter.
"As winter approaches, it is a race against time to provide shelter to the over 3 million homeless who are still, for the most part, sleeping in the open and risking exposure," Mr. Annan wrote, underscoring the need for helicopter air support, winterized tents and other temporary shelters.
Air evacuation is the only hope for most of the 67,000 injured people so far estimated to be "in dire need" of medical assistance, including thousands trapped in towns and villages cut off by a severely damaged road network, the letter said. More than 40,000 people have already died in the disaster.
The Secretary-General urged all Member States to pledge generously. "Channelling your assistance through the coordinated United Nations humanitarian system ensures that your precious contribution will immediately go to urgent life-saving priorities," he wrote, noting that of the $312 million sought in the UN Flash Appeal, only $43 million had so far been given and another $43 million pledged.
To galvanize additional support the UN is convening a ministerial-level meeting in Geneva next Wednesday.
In Brussels today, Mr. Egeland briefed NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and the NATO Council on the crisis.
"NATO is planning to increase its operations further and will work closely with the Pakistan Government and the United Nations in this regard. Liaison officers at both the Headquarters and operational levels will be established, to ensure well coordinated activities to save as many lives as possible," he told reporters afterwards.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that its joint airlift with NATO, already in its third day, had so far delivered more than 60 tons of life-saving tents, blankets and other relief items to Pakistan. With help from the Turkish Government, the airlift will rush in further emergency materials over the next several days, using military planes from many NATO member countries.
Though more relief supplies are now moving into the earthquake-stricken areas, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) today urged donors to act even faster to avoid more suffering and unnecessary death.
WFP is now preparing to drastically increase its emergency transport capacity - for example, adding more aircraft, helicopters, 4 x 4 trucks and snowploughs. "This is perhaps the greatest logistics challenge the relief community has ever faced," Amir Abdulla, the agency's Regional Director for Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe, said.
"Our logistics experts are gravely concerned at the task ahead, and are urging a large-scale international response, including heightened military assistance."