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World Community Rushes To Aid South Asian Earthquake Victims

10 October 2005

Death toll expected to exceed 30,000; number of injured exceeds 45,000

By Todd Bullock
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- In the wake of the death and destruction caused by the massive 7.6-magnitude earthquake in South Asia, near the Pakistan-India border, the international community has mobilized to deliver assistance and relief to the devastated area.

The October 8 earthquake, which struck at 8:50 a.m. local time (1350 GMT), was felt across South Asia, from central Afghanistan to western Bangladesh, shaking three nations and causing damage across 400 kilometers. The epicenter of the quake was in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, in the Himalayan foothills.

As of midday October 10, Pakistani officials estimated the number of dead at 30,000 and the number of injured at more than 45,000. India reported at least 865 deaths and Afghanistan reported four. Those figures are expected to rise in the days ahead.

More than 2.5 million people have been left homeless and doctors are warning of potential disease outbreaks unless relief arrives quickly, according to the United Nations.

Gerhard Putnam-Cramer, the chief of emergency services for the United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs, said in an October 9 interview with CNN that logistical constraints were proving particularly challenging to relief efforts.

“The international teams are coming in. Many are prevented, though, from going further than Islamabad up to Muzzaffarabad, where there’s a tremendous need for these teams,” he said, adding that many roads will not be passable for days and some that now are passable only are so by laying down wooden beams over which trucks can be driven.

The portions of Northern Pakistan, India and Afghanistan affected by the earthquake are within a seismically unstable area in which earthquakes and active faults occur as the direct result of the friction between the northward movement of the Indian subcontinent against the Eurasian continent, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

UNITED STATES STAGES RAPID RESPONSE

President Bush announced October 9 the United States would deploy eight helicopters, which are expected to arrive October 10 in the affected area. Also on October 9, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, "Additional capabilities for airborne reconnaissance, heavy lift ground equipment, and medical support are being identified and dispatched from within the Central Command region."  (See related article.)

On October 8, the president and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice both offered their condolences to those affected by the earthquake and said the United States stands ready to provide whatever assistance might be needed. (See related article.)

The U.S. Agency for International Development announced a $1 million aid package for earthquake victims would be provided through the American Red Cross. This amount is intended to supplement immediate emergency relief funds announced by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad and the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. (See related articles on Islamabad and New Delhi contributions.)

Muslim communities and nongovernmental organizations in the United States are also leading collection drives.

INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS LENDING SUPPORT TO VICTIMS

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has sent an emergency relief team to Mazaffarabad. The ICRC said it has not been able to communicate with the small office it maintains in that city.

The Red Cross also is reinforcing its team in Islamabad with additional expert staff and is dispatching an emergency consignment of blankets and tarpaulins (sufficient for 3,000 families) from its supplies in Kabul, Afghanistan, to Islamabad.

Other Red Cross teams have been sent to locations throughout Kashmir with blankets, emergency food and medical supplies, according to an October 10 ICRC bulletin.

The U.N. secretary-general praised the international community for its response in assisting earthquake victims in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.

Kofi Annan said he was "greatly encouraged to see the rapid and large response by the international community to the devastating earthquake that has struck the people of Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan and India," according to an October 10 statement issued by the United Nations.

"The emergency teams dispatched by the United Nations have been working since October 8 around the clock in support of national authorities to ensure rapid assessment of the needs and an effective coordination of international assistance," the statement said.

In response to a request from Pakistan, an eight-member U.N. relief team has been sent to aid in search-and-rescue operations, coordinate relief efforts and assess the impact of the quake, according to the United Nations.

Members of the U.N. Children's and Education Fund (UNICEF) were assigned to the Northwest Frontier Province; members of the U.N. Population Fund to Jammu and Kashmir; and the International Nongovernmental Organizations Forum to the Northern Areas.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has released a $100,000 emergency cash grant for immediate delivery of relief aid.

SPECIAL EFFORTED MOUNTED BY UNICEF

Within the area affected by the earthquake, approximately 50 percent of the population is under 18 years of age; 20 percent under 5, according to UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman.

Veneman, in an October 10 interview with CNN, said that her organization would be applying the lessons it learned in the wake of the December 2004 tsunami and, more recently, with Hurricane Katrina in the United States, to address “the trauma of children that go through disasters like this.”

"Children in the affected areas will be vulnerable to hunger, cold, illness, and trauma," she said in a separate statement on the same day. "Getting immediate life-saving relief into the region will be our priority for the next hours and days, even as the search and rescue effort goes on."

UNICEF has begun moving blankets, clothes, tents, food for infants and medicine from a Karachi, Pakistan, warehouse into the affected region, said Omar Abdi, head of UNICEF's operations in Pakistan.

The organization is also appealing for an initial $20 million for the survivors of the Pakistan earthquake. UNICEF’s priority is to make sure children and their families have the means to survive.

For additional information, see U.S. Response to Earthquake.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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