Pakistan in dire need of winter tents


NURPURA, Pakistan -- The earthquake left just enough splintered planks and snapped beams in the ruins of Mohammed Azeem Khan's house for him to cobble together a shack.

He and his wife added a few corrugated metal sheets from the rubble of a nearby school. But at night, freezing wind whistles through gaping holes between the timbers of the rickety hut, 3,200 feet up a mountainside.

This is where Khan and his family of six will try to survive waist-deep snow and biting cold in the bitter Himalayan winter.

"We're only covering our heads with this," Khan said. "We're just getting by. Only with a tent can we survive the winter."

The United Nations warns that thousands of quake victims could die of exposure and cold-related illnesses such as pneumonia unless tents designed to withstand heavy snow and wind arrive soon.

The Oct. 8 earthquake left up to 3.3 million Pakistanis homeless, mostly in the mountains where tens of thousands of survivors can be reached only by helicopter.

Pakistan's government and relief agencies have distributed about 60,000 tents, most of them made of thin cotton or polyester.

Pakistan needs at least 200,000 more winter tents to shelter quake survivors, according to the International Organization for Migration, a Geneva-based agency aiding quake victims.

The shortage of winter tents is so severe that the British aid group Oxfam has called on military forces around the world to move tents to the quake zone.

"These tents are currently gathering dust waiting for an emergency," said Nick Roseveare, Oxfam humanitarian director. "While this might not be a military emergency, it is an emergency."

The United States, Canada and other countries have donated some surplus tents, but so far governments won't tap their main military stockpiles, Oxfam said.

Paul Watson is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times.

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