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South Asia earthquake: Many children in isolated areas remain in peril

© UNICEF Pakistan/2005/Bociurkiw
A young girl carries a plastic jerry can filled with spring water towards an IDP camp near Balakot, moments after receiving it in a UNICEF distribution.

By Michael Bociurkiw

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan, 18 October 2005 – It’s a race against time to save up to 120,000 children who have not yet been reached by the relief effort in remote mountain areas of quake-stricken northern Pakistan.

At a makeshift hospital in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan’s Kashmir region, helicopters are bringing in injured children for treatment. Some are wrapped in damp blankets, and many have badly infected wounds.

Doctors say the most common injuries are broken limbs, cuts and head wounds. Many of them are also suffering from hunger and dehydration. Some 300 operations are performed here each day. Nearly half of the patients are children. Some have their names and condition written on their bandages for easier identification.

© UNICEF video
It’s a race against time to save up to 120,000 children who have not yet been reached by the relief effort in remote mountain areas of quake-stricken northern Pakistan.

According to aid workers, the children often seem confused and scared when they first arrive; at night many cry, and during the day some appear dazed.

A UN helicopter that brought UNICEF staff and the Pakistan Minister of Social Affairs to the area was subsequently pressed into service Monday to carry three injured children to the hospital. They spent the 30-minute flight motionless, staring at the roof of the helicopter.

Approaching winter is a deadly threat

For those who have survived the earthquake, rains, snows and plummeting temperatures are an increasing threat. Many aid organizations fear that as the winter approaches, thousands of children could die due to cold weather, lack of shelter, injury and disease.

Winterized tents are desperately needed for those whose homes have been destroyed. The UN says there are 40,000 tents on the ground, but more than 600,000 are required. Less than three weeks remain before the onset of winter.

© UNICEF video
This father is carrying his wounded daughter from the helicopter to the hospital for treatment.

In the chaotic conditions prevailing in the area, sanitation is also a problem. UNICEF Education Officer Khalida Ahmad, who is on the scene, said: “We see people washing clothes, drinking water and the water was mixed.”

There are at least 3 million people who have been affected by the earthquake, and many children have been separated from their families. On Sunday, an 11-year-old boy showed up in Muzaffarabad after travelling hundreds of kilometres from the southern port city of Karachi to search for his parents in the mountains.

In an effort to re-unite families, UNICEF is working on a system to register unaccompanied children. UNICEF has also started immunizing children against measles. Vital supplies such as tents, blankets, and water purification tablets are also reaching children.

But there are still many in the remotest areas who have not yet been reached. They are in the greatest danger if help doesn’t arrive in time.

Kun Li contributed to this story from New York.




18 October 2005:
UNICEF correspondent Kun Li reports on the effort to treat children injured in the earthquake.

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South Asia Earthquake Response


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

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