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Massive UN Aid Operation to South Asia Earthquake Victims Under Way

11 October 2005

The United Nations has launched a $272 million appeal to fund a massive emergency aid operation in earthquake devastated Pakistan. The appeal covers the work of 15 UN agencies, the International Organization for Migration and three private aid agencies.

The appeal is for immediate life-saving and early recovery activities for a period of six months. The United Nations says long-term recovery will cost billions of dollars and will have to wait until the emergency needs are addressed.

The United Nations is coordinating humanitarian operations with the Pakistani government. It says the earthquake killed more than 30,000 people. Some four million people have been affected. One million are in acute need of assistance and two million are homeless. It says more than 80 percent of structures and buildings in parts of northern Pakistan have been destroyed and strong aftershocks are threatening buildings already damaged by the initial earthquake.

The United Nations cites food, health, shelter, water and sanitation as the most critical needs.

The World Health Organization reports about one thousand hospitals have been destroyed and many medical workers killed. A WHO spokeswoman, Fadela Chaib, says the agency is sending in experts on epidemiology, public health, water and sanitation.

"For example, 17 national surgical teams, 80 people have been sent to the most affected districts. These teams consist of surgeons, orthopedic surgeons, anesthetics and operating theater technicians," Ms.Chaib says.

Although some roads in this remote mountainous area have been cleared, many remain blocked by the debris from the earthquake. Most of the agencies are obliged to use helicopters to reach the victims with supplies.

The World Food Program is taking a lead role in the coordinating effort. WFP spokesman Simon Pluess says the agency has just flown more than 90 tons of high energy biscuits to the stricken area from its warehouse in Brindizi, Italy.

"These biscuits are, of course, very essential during the first days of this incredible crisis because people have, or many people have lost all their food stocks under their collapsed buildings and they lost also their stoves. They are not able to cook. So, they need to ready to eat food very rapidly," Mr. Pluess says.

Mr. Pluess says these supplies will be enough to feed 240,000 people for five days. He says WFP plans to fly in enough high energy biscuits to feed one million people for one month.

The International Red Cross also is participating in the relief effort. Red Cross spokeswoman, Sian Bowen, says the agency has appealed for $8.4 million to help 30,000 families.

"We predict this will be our biggest response since the Asian tsunami and we fear that at least 40-thousand people are dead. This means that this is worse than the Bam earthquake," Mr. Bowen says.

The ancient Iranian city of Bam was destroyed by a powerful earthquake a few years ago. An estimated 25,000 people were killed.

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