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ISLAMABAD, 16 November 2002, In the aftermath of the three earthquakes which jolted the Northern Areas of Pakistan on November 2 & 3, causing considerable loss of life and leaving thousands destitute and homeless, UNICEF responded by sending in a rapid assessment team and providing supplies to evacuees at the makeshift camp at Gonar farm near Gilgit.
"As the lead agency for women and children, it is UNICEF's role to ensure that in any emergency, their needs are addressed first and foremost. With winter setting in, they are particularly vulnerable," says Carroll Long, UNICEF Representative.
UNICEF's Dr Tameez Ahmad undertook a rapid assessment of the situation, providing relief assistance to the affected families and communities including 350 jerricans for storing drinking water, 20,000 water purification tablets and 1 emergency health kit. These supplies were distributed through the district government officials.
"The earthquakes left as many as 11 people dead, 35 to 40 people with serious injuries and up to 4,000 people homeless. Hundreds of livestock were killed and the earthquake triggered a number of landslides along the Karakoram Highway, which severely hindered relief efforts. The cold weather in the area is making the relief effort difficult" said Dr Ahmad.
"The Muttath and Tattoo valleys in the Diamir District, about 60km from Gilgit, were the worst-hit areas. These valleys, comprising 14 villages, have a total population of 3,127 people. So far more than half have been evacuated to a makeshift camp set up at Gonar Farm about 28 kms from Chilas towards Gilgit" said Dr Ahmad. "In the camp at Gonar Farm, sanitation facilities are practically non-existent. We saw human waste strewn just a few feet away from the tents."
In addition, the water being supplied to the camp residents was tested and, it was found to be contaminated.
UNICEF has provided 3,000 ft of pipes to bring water from a stream source to the camp and in partnership with the Northern Areas Public Works Department, construction of toilets and bathing places has begun in the camp on a priority basis to prevent diseases like diarrhoea.
The 20,000 water purification tablets, supplied by UNICEF, "are a blessing and so are the jerryicans for storing water," said the Chairman of the District Council and added, "these tablets may last for 35 days and then more purification tablets will be needed."
The Government is also planning to establish a park for children who have been left homeless to help alleviate their trauma.
The NA administration believes that the camp will remain set up for at least up to four months. "This means the affectees have to brave the severe winter season from December through February when the temperature drops below freezing point," said the Deputy Commissioner of Diamir District, Mr. Mohammad Ali. Proper heating arrangements are needed. "Use of wood inside the tent is not advisable due to fire risk and smoke," cautions Col. Basharat Rizvi, adding "kerosene heaters are perhaps the best option."
For further information, please contact at :
Ms Katey Grusovin, UNICEF Islamabad, tel. 2800133 Extension 2871 or Cell: 0320 450 6972
Mr Mohammed Ali Fahim, UNICEF Islamabad, Tel: 2800133 Extension 2829