The head of the U.N. refugee agency and its goodwill ambassador, actress Angelina Jolie, visited earthquake-ravaged northern Pakistan amid concerns about the fate of homeless survivors as winter approaches. Touring a devastated town, a tent camp and the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir on Thursday, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres urged the world to come forward with aid promised at a conference last weekend that brought pledges to US$5.8 billion (Ђ5 billion).
"The most important thing is that the aid that was pledged becomes real aid as quickly as possible," Guterres said. Pakistan has generously hosted refugees from neighboring Afghanistan for decades, he said, adding: "It is time for the international community to pay back."
Surveying the ruins of the devastated town of Balakot, he said the human toll was worse than the physical destruction caused by the Oct. 8 quake, which killed an estimated 86,000 people and destroyed the homes of more than 3 million in Pakistan. A further 1,350 died in Indian-held Kashmir.
"Tens of thousands of people died here. Children who were at school, these buildings just fell down, killing everybody," Guterres said. He called it a "political and moral duty" to help the survivors rebuild their shattered lives.
Accompanied by fellow Hollywood star Brad Pitt, UNHCR goodwill ambassador Jolie made a separate, unannounced trip to quake-hit areas Thursday, visiting Balakot and the same camp Guterres toured, agency officials said. They also flew to a remote valley aboard a helicopter that brought food, blankets and plastic sheets to improve shelter.
Pitt and Jolie, who have been sporadically spotted and photographed together for months, arrived in Pakistan on Thursday after meeting with UNHCR staff Tuesday at the agency's headquarters in Geneva. Jolie, who was on her third trip to Pakistan, was scheduled to take part in a news conference with Guterres in Islamabad on Friday. In the quake zone, Guterres urged local officials and the international aid community to urgently prepare for the expected arrival of thousands of people fleeing their high-altitude villages as harsh winter conditions set in. He said agencies are also trying to make sure villagers who choose to remain in the ruins of their shattered homes get the help they need to survive the next few months.
"We are doing our best to ensure that everybody, even in the most remote locations, gets enough support to face the winter and to get through the winter without tragedy," he said, reports the AP. I.L.