World Food Program recruits mountaineers to get aid to quake survivors

The World Food Program said Tuesday it is recruiting mountaineers to reach remote pockets of high-altitude quake survivors. The Oct. 8 earthquake that killed more than 87,000 people also destroyed the homes of 3.5 million people in northwest Pakistan and Pakistani Kashmir, a region famed for its beautiful mountains that have created one of the most difficult logistical nightmares that aid agencies have faced.

Some areas are so remote that the damage is only being surveyed two months after the quake, with weather forecasters predicting a blast of Himalayan winter as early as Thursday.

"We will provide food to about 1 million survivors throughout the winter season no matter at what height they are living," WFP official Ahmed Jamal said. He said about 400,000 people affected by the earthquake are in high-altitude villages where food can only be dropped by helicopters.

"There is no road link to reach these people," Jamal said. He said the agency is using experienced mountaineers to climb the peaks to reach small communities accessible only by mule tracks or other difficult paths.

"We are assessing the needs of survivors with the help of these mountaineers and providing them food," Jamal said. "We know the real harsh winter will be compounding the problems of people, especially those living in the highlands, but we will reach them."

The Pakistani army and other aid agencies also have employed mountaineers to assess quake damage and get supplies to those who lost their homes. With the first cold snap already grounding helicopters for two days last week, the relief effort is racing against time and will increasingly have to rely on ground transportation, including hiking on foot.

The WFP chief, James Morris, appealed at a news conference Saturday for urgent funds to keep the airlift flying to quake-ravaged areas through the winter, calling it "the most difficult" logistical task the agency has ever faced.

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.

Officials say they fear another disaster as the brutal winter settles in. Pakistan's army, helped by aid workers, has built 35,000 shelters and thrown up 611,161 tents, but only 15 percent have been winterized, army spokesman Maj. Farooq Nasir said Monday, reports the AP. I.L.

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