Pakistan to open helipads to reach quake survivors

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has called for more world help to prevent a massive second wave of deaths, as Pakistan said it will open new helipads to reach quake survivors. Twelve days after the disaster left more than 47,700 people dead and 3 mln homeless, Annan's appeal underlines how the authorities and aid agencies are still struggling to cope with the scale of the disaster.

Annan said at the United Nations headquarters in New York that an 'immediate and exceptional escalation of the global relief effort' is needed to protect people from the Himalayan winter.

'That means a second, massive wave of deaths will happen if we do not step up our efforts now,' he said.

He also said he will attend a UN-sponsored emergency donors' conference in Geneva next week and urged governments and other organizations to attend at the highest level.

'I expect results,' he said. 'There are no excuses. If we are to show ourselves worthy of calling ourselves members of humankind, we must rise to this challenge.'

Annan complained that donors have only made firm commitments of 12 pct of the UN flash appeal of 312 mln usd, while the Asian tsunami appeal last December had been more than 80 pct funded within 10 days of the disaster.

Amid UN predictions that 120,000 survivors have still not been reached and that 10,000 more children could die, Pakistani authorities who are still providing the backbone of the relief effort welcome Annan's comments.

'We agree with what Kofi Annan said. We need more tents and blankets, nothing else. The food supplies are getting there but we need more tents and blankets,' said Major Farooq Nasir, an army spokesman in the devastated Pakistani Kashmir capital of Muzaffarabad.

The military said it is further stepping up its drive to get to the most remote areas using helicopters, mules and foot soldiers and will open 24 new helipads today for quake aid flights in the Kashmiri mountains.

They are split between the devastated Jhelum and Neelum valleys outside Muzaffarabad.

'Twenty-four more helipads will be established ... and this means we will be able to help people who we have not been able to reach so far,' another army spokesman Colonel Rana Sajjad said late Wednesday.

The colonel said 109 flights, by an assortment of Pakistani and foreign military including German and US, as well as the International Committee for the Red Cross, took off yesterday, the most since the quake.

Britain pledged yesterday to send three Royal Air Force Chinook helicopters to help, adding to five US Chinooks operating here among dozens of choppers from around the world.

But the relief flights, which continued this morning in good weather, have failed to reach thousands of survivors in the rugged Himalayan foothills of Kashmir, reports Forbes. I.L.

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