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Pakistan: UN quake relief moves into higher gear with emergency food deliveries

10 October 2005 United Nations agencies are working round the clock to bring relief to survivors of Saturday’s devastating earthquake in Pakistan, readying an airlift of vitamin-fortified life-saving food for 240,000 victims and sending in convoys of trucks with emergency supplies ranging from blankets to water purification equipment.

“Every hour counts, and I urge the world to respond and respond generously and willingly,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan told a news conference in Geneva today as the UN prepared to launch a flash appeal tomorrow.

“Massive destruction has taken place in six northern districts of North-West Frontier Provinces,” the director of the New York Office of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Ed Tsui, told a news briefing in New York. “We expect all countries and we call on all countries to support the flash appeal.”

He said UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland would be travelling shortly to Pakistan, the most devastated of the three countries hit by the quake which also struck India and Afghanistan. According to Pakistani Government estimates 30,000 people have been killed and 40,000 injured.

In a statement issued by his spokesman Mr. Annan called on all international actors “to work together to achieve full coordination of all international efforts in support of the national rescue efforts.”

Many of the desolated areas are remote and virtually inaccessible and helicopters are a prime need. “We have over the weekend appealed to all governments who have arrangements with the UN to provide such logistic support to provide in particular helicopters,” Mr. Tsui said, noting that the United States had promised eight. “We are expecting a positive response to come shortly from those governments.”

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is mobilizing urgent relief, including a planned airlift to Pakistan of 200 metric tons of high energy biscuits, vital in the first days of a natural disaster when survivors have no means to cook their own food, and has allocated an initial sum of $500,000 to the disaster.

“Many of these people have already been hit by huge natural disasters this year. This makes it even more imperative that there are no delays in the international community’s response,” regional WFP director for the Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe Amir Abdulla said, noting that the victims had suffered unprecedented rains and snowfall last winter, followed by floods and avalanches in February.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) reported that several hospitals and health facilities had been completely destroyed and many health workers, including doctors and nurses, had died or been seriously injured. It is providing sufficient essential medicines and supplies to cover the needs of 210,000 people for a month as well as enough equipment for 1,000 surgeries.

“We need to coordinate a massive health relief effort to ensure people get urgent care, and to prevent a bad situation from getting even worse,” WHO Representative for Health Action in Crises Ala Alwan said, noting mass measles vaccinations may be needed. “Medical supplies, water and sanitation supplies and cash donations will help the most.”

With its first trucks rolling towards the northern Pakistan town of Mansehra, loaded with blankets, children’s clothing, water containers, and plastic tarpaulins, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) appealed for $20 million to provide initial emergency relief to children and families who survived the quake.

“This appeal means immediate action to save children’s lives,” UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said in New York. “Needed assistance includes medical care, clean water, nutritional food for infants, clothing, and shelter - the things that matter most in the critical few weeks after a disaster like this when children and their families have lost everything.”

Another UNICEF convoy is en route from the Pakistani port city of Karachi with water purification equipment, nutritional food for children, soap, shelter supplies, and children’s boots and sweaters.

The agency is moving in additional staff and supplies from its regional offices and has provided logistics and supplies for frontline Pakistani surgical teams being dropped by helicopter into the most remote areas.

“It’s difficult to access at the best of times, and its people have very few extra resources,” UNICEF chief of operations in Pakistan Omar Abdi said of the mountainous region. “There have been overnight rains and hail which have added to the misery for people sleeping exposed, too afraid to enter whatever shelter remains. This has also created more landslides, further hampering aid efforts.”

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