One month after the earthquake that killed some 70,000 people and wrought havoc in northern Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir, tens of thousands of people in remote mountain areas cut off by road and inaccessible by helicopter have still received no relief whatsoever, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said today.
Despite the efforts by the United Nations, the international humanitarian aid community, local non-government organisations and the Pakistan Army – which have succeeded in organising an enormous relief operation providing shelter, medical aid and food to hundreds of thousands of survivors – the logistical challenge of reaching some areas has so far been insurmountable.
“The Pakistan Army has done an incredible job in clearing landslides and rebuilding collapsed roads and just in the past few days, we have been able to get supplies to some of the valleys previously only accessible by helicopter,” said Michael Jones, WFP’s Emergency Coordinator in Pakistan. “But roads into some of the more remote valleys are still blocked and there is nowhere for helicopters to land.”
He emphasised how important it was to get forward supplies close to the more remote villages before winter sets in at the next of the month. “We plan to pre-position and then lift or drop sufficient food for 200,000 people in remote, hard-to-reach areas for one month, and then to resupply each month. Winter will make resupplying problematic – but by no means totally impossible,” Jones said.
Some 25 km north of Balakot, in the Kaghan valley, where the Pakistan Army has been working day and night with bulldozers for the past four weeks to clear landslides, Bilal Khan, a humanitarian volunteer, told WFP he had walked 35 km from his village of Kamal Band to reach the main road, in a desperate bid to get help for his community.
“Everything has been destroyed. People are still living out in the open. We have not received tents or any form of shelter, nor medical assistance, nor food. We carried the worst injured down off the mountain, but there are about 1,000 injured people still up there, who will die unless they get help,” Khan said.
He said the situation was the same in the surrounding villages of Phagal, Baggri, Khanian and Jamal Marri. A total of some 20,000 people were affected. “People have been surviving off their stocks of maize and potatoes. Now we desperately need tents, medicines and food,” Khan said.
The Army says it expects to complete landslide clearance on the Kaghan valley road within the next week. It is already flying daily supplies, including wheat flour and pulses supplied by WFP on a daily basis to Kaghan town itself, which has the nearest helipad to the villages cut off higher up the valley.
In the lower lying areas near Balakot, which was itself pulverised by the earthquake, without a single building left intact, the evidence of the relief effort is clearly visible. Tented villages have mushroomed, some arranged haphazardly with tents of all different sizes and durability, others in neat rows and squares, equipped with water bladders and latrines.
More than 90 of the camps are administered by the Pakistan army, with 48 them of supplied with food by WFP, which has been coordinating its relief efforts with the Army. In order to avoid overlapping deliveries, WFP MI-8 helicopters have been flying joint sorties to stricken villages with MI-17s flown by the Army, carrying relief supplies provided by the United Nations, NGOs and the Pakistan Government.
WFP is currently deploying 17 helicopters including a giant Russian-made MI-26, capable of carrying 20 tons, to bring aid to the most inaccessible areas. Funding for the helicopter operation, which will require US$100 million is till desperately needed, with less than US$14 million received so far.
WFP’s appeal for US$56 million to provide food to one million of the most severely affected population has so far received contributions from Saudi Arabia (US$3.3 million), the United States (US$3.2 million), Japan (US$2.5 million), Denmark (US$1.6 million), Australian (US$1.5 million), Turkey (US$750,000), Ireland (US$421,000), Iceland (US$75,000) and the Faroe Islands (US$16,000), as well as private donations totalling (US$126,000).
A separate WFP appeal for US$100 million for air support has received contributions from Canada (US$4.7 million), the United Kingdom (US$3.7 million), the United States (US$3.5 million), the European Union (US$1.2 million) and Switzerland (US$500,000).