Pakistan: U.N. official appeals for funds to keep helicopters flying in quake zone

The World Food Program chief has appealed for urgent funds to keep an airlift flying to quake-ravaged areas through the winter, calling it "the most difficult" logistical task the U.N. agency has ever faced.

Fearing a second wave of deaths, soldiers and emergency workers have been racing to get food and proper shelter for survivors of the Oct. 8 quake that killed 87,000 people in Pakistan and India. Most of the deaths from the magnitude-7.6 temblor were in Kashmir, the Himalayan territory divided between the two countries but claimed in entirety by both.

The WFP has accepted responsibility for feeding 1.3 million people, while 3 million are getting assistance from the government and 150,000 from the Red Cross.

WFP director James Morris said the agency has enough capacity to keep making aid flights to remote areas through January but needs about US$65 million-$70 million (Ђ56 million-Ђ60 million) to fund the air operation until April 30.

"This has been the most difficult task that WFP" has even been given, Morris told a news conference Saturday. Trucks, donkeys, horses and Himalayan trekkers also have been used to reach the more remote areas.

"We need substantial help, and the helicopters are critical, given the weather, the rugged terrain, and our need to preposition a huge amount of food in places throughout the affected area before the weather gets terrible," Morris said.

"The worse the conditions become on the ground, the more heavily we will rely on our helicopters. We have never had a crisis where the use of helicopters was so critical."

Doctors struggling with a constant flow of patients in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan's part of Kashmir, warned that the number of sick could swell as frigid cold sets in. At least eight deaths have been blamed on the cold weather.

Bashir Rahman, a medical superintendent at the state-run Abbas Institute of Medical Science hospital, said 234 patients with winter-related ailments had been admitted to hospital in just 24 hours. Seven had pneumonia.

Dr. Abdul Hamid of the Pakistan Islamic Medical Association, which runs a field hospital in Muzaffarabad, said 174 people with respiratory tract infections, flu, fever and pneumonia had been admitted in the past two days.

Aid workers are also concerned about the lack of adequate shelter for the estimated 3.5 million made homeless by the earthquake. Pakistani soldiers are building 5,000 shelters a day.

Aid workers say most of the hundreds of thousands of tents that already have been distributed cannot give quake survivors adequate protection against the cold, and sturdier corrugated iron shelters should be used. The army has constructed about 30,000 such shelters.

Officials said they also are especially worried that hundreds of thousands of people who live at the higher elevations may be forced to come down to refugee camps as winter wears on, creating crowded conditions and possibly sanitation problems.

Jan Vandemoortele, the U.N.'s top aid coordinator in Pakistan, said Friday that a "colossal job" lies ahead since more people are expected to flow into the camps as the weather worsens. "We remain on a knife's edge," he said. "It may get worse before it gets better", reported AP. P.T.

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