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Helicopters bring food relief to hard-to-reach areas

© UNICEF Pakistan/2005/Bociurkiw
A displaced boy and his family wait to be transported to a hospital in Mansehra. Many children arriving from remote, quake-struck villages are visibly distressed.

By Michael Bociurkiw

BALAKOT, Pakistan, 15 October 2005 – Vital aid from UNICEF is reaching the more remote regions of Pakistan affected by the earthquake.

Five UNICEF flights loaded with blankets and nutritional biscuits landed in Pakistan over the weekend, and seven more are scheduled for next week and beyond with almost 100,000 blankets.

One of the main deliveries of high-protein biscuits occurred Friday, when Pakistan Army helicopters ferried the supplies and UNICEF staff to remote areas. One small package of biscuits can feed a child for three days. The mission also allowed UNICEF staff to assess damage in villages previously inaccessible.

The focus of UNICEF’s efforts has shifted from search and rescue to providing urgent assistance for survivors. But reaching survivors has been a struggle. Many villages in this mountainous region were cut off when roads were demolished in the earthquake.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2005/Bociurkiw
A young girl stands in front of the remains of a primary school on the outskirts of Balakot, one of the towns worst hit by the devastating earthquake. Thousands of schools were leveled in the quake.

The supplies are being mobilized via an "air bridge" that brings emergency supplies from UNICEF’s Karachi warehouse first through Peshawar, then into the hard-hit city of Mansehra - with Pakistani army helicopters set up to shift supplies further into inaccessible areas.

UNICEF has already delivered critical supplies such as tents, blankets, plastic tarpaulins, warm sweaters, medical supplies, water containers and high energy biscuits to survivors.

"The immediate needs right now are medicines in the medical facilities and food because food is scarce and because children often are more at risk within a family – especially girl children - when food is scarce. The water needs are increasing and right now as the weather turns shelter becomes more of a problem," said Dr. Tamur Mueenuddin, UNICEF Health Project Officer.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2005/Bociurkiw
A mother - among the millions displaced by the earthquake - rocks her child to sleep in a makeshift tent city near Balakot.

The next steps

With the approach of winter, the need for food and shelter for survivors will become an even more critical problem.

UNICEF is opening other forward operation centres in hard-hit areas, devising a measles campaign with the government, assisting the government install a water plant in Muzaffarabad and assessing schools and the education system in the affected area.

The earthquake destroyed many schools. A preliminary UNICEF estimate puts the number at 8,000. In the Balakot area alone hundreds of schoolchildren were said to have been killed instantly when the earthquake struck early Saturday morning.

Some schools are still recognizable while others are merely a pile of rubble. At the Kormi Primary School just four kilometers outside of Balakot, evidence that a hasty evacuation of the 140 students took place is visible. Tiny shoes can be seen amid the rubble and exercise books are scattered throughout.

Lareb, a girl in Grade Four, described how her school was lost. "Immediately when the wall started falling the teacher asked us to leave."

"I am now afraid of the school but I miss going to class," said Lareb.

"In many places children and women have been the most affected. They were the ones indoors at the time, more so than the men who were from those communities. Obviously everyone is very badly affected but women and children were very badly injured probably more so we hearing from the hospitals than the males," said Dr. Mueenuddin.

Children now have nowhere to play or study. Now that food aid has arrived, UNICEF’s immediate concern is providing proper shelter ahead of the rain and snow. Already night-time temperatures are hovering near the zero Celsius mark.




15 October 2005: UNICEF correspondent Jane O’Brien reports on the UNICEF effort to bring food relief to remote areas in Pakistan.

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17 October 2005:
UNICEF Country Representative in Pakistan Omar Abdi says supplies are reaching children hit hard by the earthquake.

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