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Desperate Pakistan rallies for more quake aid

Relief agencies scrambled to deliver aid to remote parts of quake-stricken Pakistan on Tuesday as a top official complained the international community was not doing enough to help.
/ Source: Reuters

Pakistani and international relief agencies scrambled to deliver vital aid to remote parts of the quake-stricken country on Tuesday as a top official complained the international community was not doing enough to help.

With winter approaching and rain predicted soon, relief workers were racing against time to reach countless people cut off by the deadly Oct. 8 quake and feared likely to die of hunger, cold and untended injuries unless help arrives fast.

“It must be clear to everybody that many people could die if we do not more quickly,” regional World Food Program director Amir Abdulla said on the eve of a conference of rich nations in Geneva to discuss aid to Pakistan.

“We must have more funding, much sooner, to gain as much speed as humanly possible in the face of giant logistical difficulties,” he said in a statement.

It was the latest in a series of complaints of a slow world response to a relief operation experts describe as the toughest ever, worse than last year’s Indian Ocean tsunami which prompted an outpouring of help.

More than 53,000 people are known to have died in the earthquake which flattened mountain villages in Pakistani Kashmir and adjoining North West Frontier Province where unknown numbers of bodies lie under the rubble.

More than 75,000 are known to have been injured seriously and people are still carrying more down from the hills on their backs.

Winter is just three weeks away, the few roads into the mountains are crumpled, covered by landslides or swept away and some will take weeks to repair, leaving helicopters as the main means of delivering food and shelter.

But the fleet of aid helicopters, although growing, cannot reach them all, or deliver enough.

Up to 3 million people must be sheltered and fed through the winter and more tents are needed than the world can supply in time. Hundreds of thousands of people remain cut off.

Rain coming
Time is short, with night temperatures already below freezing in the hills of Pakistani Kashmir. Rain was expected later on Tuesday and into Wednesday, heaping more misery on survivors and likely to ground helicopters.

Abdulla said the WFP had received only 13 percent of the $56 million it needed to feed people through the Himalayan winter.

“Up to three times as much money could be needed for the land and air logistics operations that WFP is handling on behalf of almost all humanitarian agencies,” he said.

Relief officials on the ground say aid is flowing in faster, although it remains insufficient, and more help arrives each day.

In Muzaffarabad, the wrecked capital of Pakistani Kashmir, a U.S. army field hospital, popularized by the hit Korean war-era movie and television series M*A*S*H, opened -- part of more than 1,000 American force that will operate in Pakistan.

“We’re going to be able to perform surgery by this evening,” said Lt. Kevin Stephens of the Germany-based 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.

Rear Adm. Michael A. LeFever said that about 560 American military were helping with the relief effort in Pakistan, but the number would increase in coming days.

“We continue to assess the ground and help our friends” and U.S. troops were in Pakistan “for the long haul”, LeFever said.

Thousands of people in affected areas were still fearful, with more than 900 aftershocks recorded since the quake and rumors rife of another big quake or even a volcanic eruption.

Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said the army was flying geologists to the remote Alai valley in the North West Frontier Province to investigate reports of a possible eruption.

People in the area had reported seeing smoke and fire from the nearby mountains, he said.

“We flew helicopters yesterday but could not find any signs. Today we are taking geologists to investigate it further.”

The smoke could well be dust from landslides which are still rolling off the ranges.

Talks with India on the acutely sensitive issue of opening the de facto frontier to help relief efforts are scheduled to begin in Islamabad on Saturday. The quake killed 1,300 people in Indian Kashmir.