Many of the non-winterized tents distributed to victims have collapsed under the weight of snow and the onslaught from fierce winds that have been lashing mountainous parts of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Pakistani-administered Kashmir for the past three days.
Piles of canvas can be spotted everywhere, even in relatively low areas located just beyond the town of Balakot. Some tents have filled up with rainwater, others are sagging under the snow that has collected on them and many campsites are flooded.
Families unfamiliar with living under canvas often seem uncertain how to keep out water or to set their tents up in locations protected from the fierce wind. In many cases, they are also unable to find ground firm enough to hold up poles, with the consistent drizzle having created soggy conditions almost everywhere.
Many have given up, and have instead focused efforts on building small, cave-like shelters from stone, rubble and salvaged plastic sheets.
"The situation is really terrible. People are living outdoors in the rain and snow. There was all this fuss about giving them winterized tents, but it is obvious these [non-winterized tents] are useless. Did no one realize that earlier?" asked Salim Muneer, 24, a volunteer with a local NGO.
More bad weather, including heavy snowfall, is forecast over many areas of NWFP in the coming week.
Assistance has slowed in many parts of the quake zone, with roads having virtually vanished under thick layers of snow. Although relief goods, including food items and new tents, were reportedly transported to the Kala-Dhaka area, with a population of some 10,000 stranded people, on Tuesday.
Others engaged in the relief effort, including the Pakistani military, believe it is essential to shift people down to safer areas, where they can be housed in better maintained camp villages. "The situation is critical. We have to bring people down," maintained Brig Farooq, while talking to IRIN in Balakot. He held that with more routes likely to be shut off during the weeks ahead, getting aid supplies to affected populations would become increasingly arduous, leaving them in ever greater peril.
But many survivors at high altitude are now faced with a dilemma: stay and perhaps freeze to death, or move down to safer areas and risk losing everything.
"We need aid provided to U.S. where we live. We cannot simply abandon our property, our livestock and our farms to come down," insisted Abbas Ali, 34, who had come down to Balakot from his village in the Kaghan Valley to take back supplies of wheat flour and sugar.
It is now obvious that, given the harshness of the winter in all affected areas, tents were never going to provide sufficient protection. Getting food to survivors, even in lower altitude areas, is becoming increasingly difficult and all along roads World Food Program (WFP) vehicles and other trucks can be seen waiting patiently as efforts continue to clear landslides and snow.
But even with the limited bulldozers and snow clearing machinery available, the battle seems to be a losing one. Although the rockslides have been lifted from the Murree-Kohala-Muzaffarabad road and the Thakot-Bana road, heavy snow makes travel along them almost impossible. The sight of trapped vehicles is becoming increasingly common and in many cases drivers unaccustomed to the conditions have been unable to navigate even the roads that are open.
There is also an urgent need for doctors and nurses in all affected areas, for more food supplies, warm bedding, more clothes, hot water -- and most of all for shelter, relief workers say.
[Integrated Regional Information Networks is a project the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]
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