Three weeks after an earthquake devastated northern Pakistan, some 200,000 people have still not received any assistance at all, the United Nations emergency relief office reported today, underscoring the dire situation in the remote region where tens of thousands could die without urgent aid.
Giving its latest update two days after Secretary-General Kofi Annan told a donors' conference the world community must prevent a second wave of deaths from the quake which has already killed more than 50,000 people, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said up to 30 per cent of affected villages had yet to be reached.
Echoing Mr. Annan's warning, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) said today hundreds of thousands of people face the unnecessary risks of death, illness and further injury as the harsh Himalayan winter approaches. People need shelter, safe drinking water and access to health care now and throughout the winter in order to survive.
"Without more help now, the second wave of deaths in Pakistan is coming. We cannot wait to see images of people freezing to death or dying of preventable disease before we act," WHO Representative for health action in crises, Ala Alwan, said.
"With the money received so far, WHO, its partners and the Ministry of Health have made a difference to people's lives. The revised appeal will scale-up WHO's support," he added, referring to the additional $238 million the UN is now seeking on top of its original $312 million Flash Appeal.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has already increased its estimate of the number of people in potential need of food aid to get through the winter to 2.3 million people. Apart from its immediate death toll, the quake injured some 74,000 people and left more than 3 million others homeless.
"These people were already poor before the earthquake hit. In a matter of just a few minutes everything they had – their homes and livelihoods – disappeared," said WFP Programme Adviser Anette Haller, who headed an assessment team in the area.
"Now they are completely desperate. We have to reach them before winter does – and that means within the next three weeks," she warned. WFP has so far distributed 3,000 tons of food aid to half a million people.
UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Ann Veneman will start a two-day visit to the quake zone on Sunday. She will visit hard-hit communities and meet with Pakistani officials. Within the last 10 days UNICEF has helped to vaccinate 65,000 children against measles and tetanus.
For its part, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is continuing to provide blankets, tents, plastic sheets, jerry cans and burial cloths. Its airlift from Turkey, organized in cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), is now in its tenth day and has so far delivered more than 450 tons of urgently needed supplies.
"The window to reach earthquake survivors in the remote mountains and high valleys of quake-hit Pakistan is fast closing with the onset of cold weather," UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva. "This is still a life-saving operation and every minute counts."