Pakistan: UN agencies in overdrive to save quake victims as winter looms

1 November 2005

United Nations agencies are working flat out to bring help to hundreds of thousands of survivors of Pakistan’s worst-ever earthquake before the onslaught of the harsh Himalayan winter further impedes access, but major funding shortfalls are hampering the efforts.

“This really is a race against time and the weather. If we lose, people are going to suffer even more,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva today, noting that Pakistani staff, including truck drivers, have agreed to work right through this week’s Muslim Eid holiday.

But the agency has so far received only $5.5 million of the $30 million it needs for the emergency operation, including the joint airlift with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) of tents, blankets, mattresses and stoves for the survivors of the 8 October quake, which has already killed more than 50,000 people, injured some 74,000 others and left over 3 million homeless.

Only $131.1 million of the $550-million UN Flash Appeal have so far been received, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported today, meaning that it was less than a quarter funded.

This was very disappointing, OCHA spokesperson Elizabeth Byrs said in Geneva. More money was needed and if it did not come, it would not be possible to rent helicopters and some agencies would have to slow down their operation

Yesterday, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) warned that it might be forced to ground its relief helicopters, the sole lifeline for hundreds of thousands of survivors, within the next two weeks because of lack of funds to fly them.

UNHCR has so far provided over 2,000 tonnes of supplies, including 232,000 blankets, 20,000 tents, 83,300 plastic sheets, 33,000 jerry cans and many other items. “While 2,000 tonnes is a lot, it's still just a drop in the bucket when we look at the enormous needs,” Ms. Pagonis said.

UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director, Ann M. Veneman this weekend became the first head of a UN humanitarian agency to visit the devastated region, where it is estimated that nearly half the victims are children 18 and under.

“Enormous challenges remain. There are large numbers of people who have still not been reached. We have a short critical window of time to act before the Himalayan winter sets in,” she said after touring the ravaged Balakot and Muzzafarabad areas.

“The children and their families cannot wait much longer. We must do everything we can to ensure their survival. They need shelter and care as quickly as possible without urgent action from us large numbers of children could die immediately,” she added.

More funding is urgently needed to save lives now, she stressed. “We will be here throughout this crisis and after. But this cannot happen without substantial additional investment,” she declared.

“We need urgent large scale support to control disease, malnutrition and to improve water supply and sanitation. Without this children and adults will die of preventable disease – and this is already happening.”

 

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