Pakistan: more quake survivors leave winter relief camps, UN reports
More than 64,000 survivors of last October's devastating earthquake in Pakistan have already left relief camps for home with the end of the harsh winter, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) reported today.
Thirty camps have closed, leaving 86,750 people in over 120 camps with 50 or more tents, and the agency reiterated its call to the authorities to ensure that all returns home are carried out with full consent. The 8 October quake killed over 73,000 people, injured nearly 70,000 and left millions more homeless.
“UNHCR continues to stress that returns must be voluntary and that people are informed,” spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva. “We've launched a campaign in the camps to inform people about how the Government plans to assist them upon their return.”
Inevitably, there will be some vulnerable people who cannot go home immediately for various reasons, she noted. Some have been orphaned, widowed or disabled; others have lost their land or come from towns like Balakot, which lies on major fault lines and has to be relocated.
“It is extremely important that these vulnerable people continue to be assisted until more permanent solutions are found for them,” she added.
In another quake-related initiative, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) is helping Pakistan's Ministry of Health operate a therapeutic feeding centre for undernourished children in Muzaffarabad, epicentre of the quake, and extend health care to village communities where there was none before.
These activities are intended to safeguard children's health as the emergency phase of the quake relief effort transitions to return, reconstruction and rehabilitation.
Health authorities, UNICEF and partner organizations have taken steps to protect children made even more vulnerable by months of life in camps.
“Malnutrition in all its forms can have terrible consequences for a child's life,” UNICEF Nutrition Officer John Egbuta said. “A malnourished child gradually loses all his or her energy and is then predisposed to diarrhoea, acute respiratory infection and measles. Also, physical and mental development are affected.”