As rain and snow pelted the areas of Pakistan devastated by last October’s massive earthquake, aid workers are working to help survivors cope with dipping temperatures, the United Nations refugee agency said today.
The bad weather, which started on Saturday night and unleashed torrents of rain and up to five inches of snow in northern Pakistan, grounded relief flights for three days and caused landslides and road blockages in much of the earthquake-affected areas, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Isolated cases of flooding and tent damage were reported in several relief camps.
“Some tents collapsed under the weight of the snow when people didn't pitch them properly,” said Morgan Morris, UNHCR’s team leader in Muzaffarabad, explaining how the agency responded with new tents while non-governmental organizations (NGOs) helped the residents to drive in stakes and tighten ropes.
“We’re also advising people to prevent flooding and improve drainage by digging a trench around their tent to prevent water from seeping in, and making a drain to channel the water out,” she said.
She added that some spontaneous camps that had previously declined UNHCR’s assistance in the just-concluded winterization campaign are now accepting its relief items for protection against the Himalayan cold. Nearly 70 families at Interloop camp received emergency distributions of blankets and plastic sheets today.
In Batagram, where it poured non-stop for three days, part of one camp was flooded. “These tents were erected in the rice fields, so naturally they retain water," explained UNHCR team leader Bujar Restani, who said the agency is working with local authorities to “improve drainage and explore options like elevating the tents with concrete blocks.”
In the event that harsh weather drives quake survivors to seek help in camps, UNHCR is ready to support the Pakistan Government with 50,000 additional arrivals. New sites have been set up while existing camps have been expanded.
To mitigate the expected effects of winter, UNHCR and the Government will start distributing 40,000 stoves in the relief camps this weekend while launching an information campaign on fire safety and prevention. The agency is also supplementing the efforts by the authorities to provide fire extinguishers and buckets filled with sand in case of fire.