87,000 is South Asia's earthquake death toll, more victims expected

The estimated death toll in South Asia's earthquake rose to more than 87,000 Tuesday amid warnings by top officials at the United Nations of a vast funding shortfall for relief efforts. But on the ground, aid officials said in a press conference marking the one month anniversary of the disaster that they are cautiously hopeful that a further humanitarian catastrophe can be avoided before winter sets in.

The toll in Pakistan jumped to 86,000, or 13,000 higher than the government's official toll so far, under a broad assessment by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, working with local governments and aid agencies, Pakistani Finance Ministry official Iqbal Ahmed Khan said Tuesday. India has reported 1,350 deaths in its portion of divided Kashmir.

Khan said the new tally for Pakistan came after more bodies were pulled from debris and recovery teams reached areas previously blocked by landslides unleashed by the magnitude-7.6 quake and its hundreds of aftershocks.

"This is their assessment, which we think is fair enough," Khan said.

The central Pakistani government's official death toll, still at 73,000 _ typically has lagged behind other tallies, including those of local provincial governments in the quake-affected areas, whose most conservative estimates added up to 79,000 for Pakistan for more than two weeks.

Aid officials fear that winter could bring a new wave of deaths among survivors, from hypothermia and respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia.

The U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland said Monday in New York that people in Kashmir could "freeze to death if they don't get assistance in weeks," while urging individuals and oil-rich nations to be more generous.

However, at a news conference Tuesday in Islamabad, U.N. aid officials indicated that funding and the efforts of aid workers have begun to catch up with the needs, the AP says.

"Perhaps for the first time since Oct. 8 there is a sense of cautious optimism in the humanitarian community," said local U.N. emergency coordinator Jan Vandemoortele. "The job is Colossal, but there is a feeling that this is a doable job. It is not mission impossible."

The U.N. officials made no mention of scaling back helicopter aid flights, as they had warned about doing in the past couple of weeks unless more funding came through.


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