Published October 12th, 2005 - 06:47 GMT

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is tonight beginning a major airlift of emergency relief supplies to Pakistan for the victims of Saturday’s earthquake, which killed some 20,000 people and left hundreds of thousands more homeless and destitute.

A WFP Ilyushin-76 carrying medical supplies and generators is due to take off from Brindisi, Italy for Peshawar at 5 a.m. on Tuesday morning. This will be followed a few hours later by a WFP-chartered Boeing 747 with a cargo of 80 metric tons of high energy biscuits, fortified with vitamins and micronutrients.

“It is vital to get to the survivors as soon as possible. They have already had two nights out in the open in the cold mountains,” said Jean-Jacques Graisse, WFP Senior Deputy Executive Director and Chief of Operations. “They need shelter, medical assistance and also food, which they have no means to prepare – which is why the biscuits are so important.”

As the lead UN agency for logistical coordination of the response, WFP will continue to shuttle food and other relief supplies to Pakistan over the coming weeks, using planes based in Brindisi and Dubai. It is also chartering a giant Antonov 124 transport plane to bring two heavy-lift helicopters to Pakistan from Malaysia, where they were assisting WFP operations for the victims of last December’s tsunami. Given that roads to the area worst hit by the quake have been cut off by landslides, helicopters are crucial for access until trucks can get through.

Two fixed-wing planes have been diverted from WFP’s Afghanistan operation to support the relief effort inside Pakistan.

WFP today sent teams to the worst-affected areas, as part of three Inter-agency rapid assessment missions organised by the UN Disaster Management Team. An appeal to donors for contributions to WFP’s emergency assistance and logistics operation will be launched within the next few days. WFP’s Country Director in Pakistan has already approved an emergency allocation of US$500,000.

“We will shortly be receiving the results of initial assessments to determine how much assistance is needed and where. But at present we are planning on providing ready-to-eat food for one million people for one month,” Graisse said. “We are ready to provide further assistance if and when the Pakistan Government requests it.”

The earthquake, which measured 7.6 on the Richter scale, wiped out towns and villages across northern Pakistan and also affected Indian-administered Kashmir and parts of Afghanistan. Worst hit were five districts in north-eastern Pakistan, near the line of control that divides Pakistani- and Indian-administered Kashmir. In the town of Muzaffarabad, just south of the epicentre, only 30 percent of buildings were left standing.

Whenever a disaster strikes, WFP works in partnership with non-governmental organizations on the ground.  Donations to the World Food Programme are used to buy food and services which are then shared with key partner agencies like the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Oxfam, Save the Children, World Vision and Concern.

The World Food Programme uses its logistical expertise and muscle to purchase and move food to the areas where it is most needed.  The non-governmental agencies then use their staff on the ground to put the food directly into the hands of the hungry.  This dynamic relationship is the foundation of a successful operation to bring food and relief to the victims of natural and man-made disasters.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: each year, we give food to an average of 90 million poor people to meet their nutritional needs, including 56 million hungry children, in at least 80 of the world's poorest countries. WFP -- We Feed People.

WFP Global School Feeding Campaign – For just 19 US cents a day, you can help WFP give children in poor countries a healthy meal at school – a gift of hope for a brighter future.

Victims of the South Asia earthquake need your help. To make an online donation, visit: http//


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