The United Nations sent an emergency coordination team to Pakistan immediately to begin relief efforts after an earthquake left more than 18,000 people dead in southern Asia.
The eight-member team from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs was due in Islamabad on Sunday to help set up a center for coordinating the global body’s emergency response.
“We know that every hour counts in an earthquake of this magnitude and the United Nations is ready to assist the country affected in any possible manner,” Jan Egeland, undersecretary-general for the relief group, said Saturday in a statement from U.N. Headquarters.
In Geneva, U.N. Humanitarian Affairs spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told The Associated Press: “These are our top coordination officials. At least two of the staff we sent have experience from dealing with the (Indian Ocean) tsunami.”
The international Red Cross said it also was preparing an emergency response.
Earlier Saturday, two local Pakistan Red Crescent groups were deployed to Pakistan’s northwest frontier and another one to Kashmir to assess the damage, said Marie-Francoise Borel, spokeswoman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
“We’re hoping to have some idea of the number of dead, number of homeless and the level of damage sometime on Sunday,” Borel said. “We need to know if entire villages have been destroyed, do they have access to clean water and do they need food.”