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PRESS CONFERENCE BY OFFICE FOR COORDINATION OF HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

11 October 2005

As the United Nations launched an appeal for $272 million to meet the most urgent needs of earthquake victims in South Asia, poor weather conditions and the near-complete lack of accessible roads were severely hampering relief efforts, Hansjoerg Strohmeyer, Chief of Staff to the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.

“At this point, only one small road in the region is open to light vehicles, and trucks have no way to get there at all”, he said. For that reason, helicopters and heavy lifting equipment were the most crucial items currently needed. The United Nations had 20 teams working closely with the Pakistani authorities to bring in relief supplies, he added.

Noting that search-and-rescue efforts would most likely be completed by tomorrow, he said that according to the latest estimates, more than 30,000 people had been killed in the disaster, roughly 60,000 had been injured and 2.5 million had been left homeless. One million people were in desperate need of life-saving assistance.

In a report released today, the OCHA disaster-assessment team, one of the first to reach Muzaffarabad by helicopter, called the situation there “critical”. Sixty per cent of the housing had been destroyed and the rest of city was uninhabitable. Heavy rain and mudslides were also making it extremely difficult to reach those in need.

Another critical necessity at present was shelter materials, Mr. Strohmeyer said. United Nations organizations were mobilizing available stocks from warehouses in the region and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was bringing in shelter supplies for 100,000 people. Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) had started delivering high-energy biscuits and other meals ready to eat.

When asked whether the United Nations would also devote resources to those areas of India affected by the quake, Mr. Strohmeyer said disaster assessment teams had been simultaneously offered to both India and Pakistan on 8 October. India, as in most previous natural disasters, felt it could handle the problem on its own, but the United Nations offer remained open. India had also offered assistance to Pakistan, which had been accepted.

Asked about the role of United Nations monitors on the Line of Control dividing the disputed province of Kashmir, he said the world body’s entire system in the region had been mobilized. No military personnel were involved in relief efforts, but everyone was participating in logistical support.

Questioned as to how much of the $272 million he expected to raise, he said that figure was the best estimate of the region’s most immediate needs and logistical demands. As more areas were reached and the situation could be better assessed, that number could go higher. “We appeal to everybody to respond to this earthquake and natural disaster in a tsunami-style manner, meaning we will have the costs covered as soon as possible.”

He also pleaded for support of the Secretary-General’s proposal for a Global Emergency Fund of roughly $500 million that could be used for life-saving assistance measures within 48 to 72 hours of an emergency.

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For information media • not an official record



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