Copyrighted material


by Simon Schneller

Emergency Tents Failed Pakistan Quake Survivors

(IPS) UNITED NATIONS -- Nearly 100 days after the devastating earthquake in Pakistan, uncertainties over the financing of humanitarian aid still loom large.

"I must say that given where we started a few months ago, a lot has been achieved and hundreds of UN staff and tens of thousands of Pakistani army people have been working now for 100 days and they have accomplished a lot," Margareta Wahlstrom, assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and deputy emergency relief coordinator, said Monday.

The Oct. 8 disaster, whose epicenter was in the Pakistan-administered region of the disputed territory of Kashmir, has claimed more than 74,000 lives, injured almost an equal number and displaced 2.5 million others.

"No one is going to die because of lack of support through the UN development program," Wahlstrom said in response to a question regarding how many lives could be lost if the United Nations cannot secure needed funds.

She said that about 60 percent of the money pledged has been committed, which "doesn't mean that all the money is in the box, but the money is firmly pledged and therefore you can expend against it if you have the resources to do so.

"There is yet no reason to declare victory, but we are around 56 percent of the total appeal today," she said, adding, "We need 100 percent, of course."

In late October, the UN increased the level of funds sought to continue its relief operations from $238 million to $550 million.

Leading donors like the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the United States had pledged $5.8 billion to help Pakistan recover from the earthquake.

Approximately $3.5 billion of this amount is needed to rebuild the local infrastructure in affected areas.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is now struggling to assist nearly 140,000 survivors left homeless by the disaster and living in nearly 140 earthquake relief camps.

"UNHCR is intensifying its winterization drive in relief camps by replacing low-quality tents, distributing heating stoves and relocating people to camps that are better equipped to cope with the bad weather," UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva last week.

UNHCR has provided 40,000 stoves to the camps and will continue to supply them with kerosene for heating throughout the winter. Wahlstrom also emphasized that because of the UN's relief program, hundreds of thousands of blankets, tents and food had been distributed in the affected regions.

On Tuesday, the UN World Food Program (WFP) received an $8.1 million contribution from the European Commission. "The EC contribution is helping to ensure that all windows of opportunity will be used to distribute aid in the weeks to come," said WFP Executive Director James Morris.

To date, WFP has delivered 8,600 metric tons of food, 1,125 metric tons of nonfood items, such as tents and tools, and 76 mobile warehouses to earthquake victims in Pakistan.

In addition to reconstruction efforts, which, according to Wahlstrom, "of course have to start now," the main issue at the moment is "to support the people through the winter." Since early January, bad weather, rain and heavy snowfall, with temperatures dropping to between 6 Celsius and minus 16 Celsius, have hit northern Pakistan.

"We need to be able to sustain the help until the end of the winter so that the reconstruction efforts can then take off after the winter is lifting," Wahlstrom said. "I think they have a funding shortfall until the end of January, but after that they really need to have a confirmation of new pledges."

The winter in Pakistan could last into early April, she added.

The onset of winter has also hampered air relief operations, which rely mainly on helicopters and have played a vital role in reaching people in remote locations. The effort is the largest of its kind in the WFP's history, with a fleet of 14 Mi-8, two Mi-26 and two Ka-30 helicopters.

On Tuesday, former President George H.W. Bush ended a two-day visit to Pakistan as the secretary-general's special envoy for the South Asia earthquake.

Although the harsh winter weather kept him from visiting the affected areas, Bush met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and made plans to visit these areas as soon as possible, a UN spokesman said on Tuesday.

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor January 18, 2006 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.