Pakistan

South Asia earthquake: 10,000 children could die in coming weeks

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© UNICEF video
Nearly two weeks after the earthquake struck South Asia, thousands of injured children living in remote areas remain untreated; 10,000 more could die if obstacles to relief are not cleared.

By Michael Bociurkiw

MANSEHRA, Pakistan, 24 October 2005 – It’s one of the most inhospitable places on earth. The towering Himalayan mountain ranges that make up a large part of the earthquake zone in Pakistan present a major challenge for relief workers. Thousands in remote areas have not yet been reached with supplies. Many injured children remain untreated, and 10,000 more could die if obstacles to relief are not cleared.

Ever since the quake struck South Asia on October 8 – killing at least 50,000 people and leaving more than 3 million homeless – supplies have been rolling out of UNICEF warehouses worldwide and into Pakistan. But the effort to reach affected people in the country’s northern mountains has been hampered by a lack of implementing partners on the ground, destruction of roads, rough terrain, and bad weather.

With the first heavy snows just weeks away, UNICEF and other aid groups are racing against time to help the millions of survivors suffering from the cold and rattled by fresh aftershocks. Providing shelter is a huge challenge, due to the very large numbers of homeless and the difficulties of access.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Pakistan/2005/ Bociurkiw
Supplies are getting through to affected families. Among the items are high-energy biscuits, soap bars, blankets, tents and water containers – essential for boosting children’s chances of survival.

Although the aid is now getting through faster, the recovery has been slowed by a lack of money: UNICEF’s appeal for funding has reached just two fifths of its target. 
 
Pakistani army assistance

Supplies are getting through to affected families, often within hours of leaving warehouses, thanks to a large fleet of trucks and to helicopters lent by the Pakistani Army. The helicopters are capable of flying high into the Himalayan foothills to reach small villages hit by the quake. Among the supplies they are carrying are high energy biscuits, soap bars, blankets, tents and water containers – essential for boosting children’s chances of survival.

Says Luke Chauvin, a UNICEF Emergency Officer based in Mansehra: “We are expanding teams on the ground. We are getting to more places, with more staff and with more supplies. I think we are making a difference, but the requirements are huge and we still need to go to scale.”

This huge job isn’t only about delivering supplies to the most needy. It’s also about treating the injured, finding implementing partners on the ground, dealing with critical water and sanitation issues to avoid disease, supporting the Pakistan health system which is under unprecedented stress, and addressing issues such as protection of children and education (more than 10,000 schools are thought to have been destroyed).

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Pakistan/2005/ Bociurkiw
Relief efforts are being carried out as quickly as possible to avoid disruption by the first snows.

Racing against time

In addition to emptying its Pakistan warehouses of blankets, high-protein biscuits, medical supplies and shelter materials, UNICEF has sent large quantities of water and sanitation kits to help reduce disease outbreaks and is supporting government immunization teams to reach 4 million children with vaccines against measles, tetanus and polio. More supplies are arriving from abroad. A water treatment plant in Muzaffarabad has been repaired and pit latrines are being dug in camps.

These and other relief efforts have to be carried out as quickly as possible. The first snows, expected to blanket the earthquake-affected region in a few weeks, will render some supply routes impassable.

Sabine Dolan contributed to this report from New York.


 

 

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24 October 2005:
UNICEF correspondent Sabine Dolan reports on the ongoing challenges for the quake relief effort in Pakistan.

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