Pakistan quake-relief airlift almost out of funds

WORLD DIGEST

World Digest

October 29, 2005|By PAUL WATSON

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Helicopters delivering food and rescuing injured earthquake survivors soon could be grounded because the airlift is running out of money, frustrated U.N. officials warned yesterday.

The United Nations has enough cash to keep choppers flying into northern Pakistan's quake zone for one more week, senior relief officials said in a frantic appeal to donors for cash and food.

"It is now or never," said Jan Vandemoortele, the U.N.'s earthquake relief coordinator. "We will not have a second chance."

"Tomorrow will be too late for thousands and thousands of victims," he added, "especially babies and small children vulnerable to pneumonia, diarrhea and malnutrition."

Survivors in remote villages will die if the United Nations doesn't get $50 million immediately to keep relief helicopters flying into areas that will be cut off by snow in the coming weeks, said Matthew Hollingworth, the World Food Program's logistics chief here.

The relief operation is short about $120 million for the next five months, Hollingworth said.

The United States and 59 other countries pledged $580 million for earthquake relief at a Geneva conference Wednesday, but only $15.8 million of that was promised for immediate delivery. That's 20 percent of the money the United Nations needs now to provide emergency shelter, food and other relief before the brutal Himalayan winter cuts off thousands of devastated mountain villages.

And countries often pledge aid that is never delivered, officials pointed out.

Doctors working in northern Pakistan, which was heavily damaged in the Oct. 8 quake, are reporting cases of pneumonia and bronchitis as well as tetanus among victims who went days or weeks without getting treatment for broken bones and wounds.

The United States leads the donors' list. It has paid or made legally binding commitments to pay more than $80 million in earthquake relief, according to U.N. figures. That amounts to 31 percent of total contributions and commitments, which exclude nonbinding pledges.

Japan and Qatar are next on the donors' list, with contributions and commitments of about $20 million each. Private donors compose the fourth-largest category, with more than $16 million in donations.

The magnitude-7.6 quake killed at least 54,000 people, although some estimates put the toll at close to 80,000. It injured 78,000 others and left 3.3 million people homeless.

Relief agencies are short 200,000 winter tents to house quake survivors that "are desperately needed now," said Chris Lom, a spokesman for the International Organization of Migration.

The United Nations has enough relief food here to feed 500,000 people for two months, but aid workers must feed an estimated 2.3 million people, Hollingworth said.

The United Nations has been borrowing money from other programs, and dipping into its reserve funds, to pay for the relief effort so far, but the cash will run out within a week, officials said.

Relief workers acknowledge that at first they didn't realize the extent of the catastrophe or how difficult it would be to deliver aid to hundreds of destroyed villages across a wide, mountainous region.

Paul Watson writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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