UNICEF starts distributing cold-weather clothes to quake-hit kids

UNICEF said Wednesday it has started distributing "winter kits" of warm clothes to young earthquake survivors in northern Pakistan, to help them survive the brutal Himalayan winter. UNICEF spokesman Sami Malik said the U.N. children's agency has ordered 100,000 kits, shoes, jackets, scarves and other cold-weather gear, for children from 18 months to 18 years of age. They are meant to provide protection from the freezing cold and heavy snows that are expected to start begin in the next few days.

"Initially these winter kits are being given to children in remote areas, and we are also dispatching them for people living in the highlands," Malik said. About 54,000 kits have arrived so far, with 30,000 being distributed in the remote town of Bagh and 20,000 in the Muzaffarabad region.

"We have also appealed to parents to come down from mountains with their children," Malik said. "We are especially concerned about the children, who are at risk because their parents have lost homes and they don't have proper shelter and clothing."

A massive earthquake on Oct. 8 killed at least 87,000 people and left another 3.5 million homeless in northwestern Pakistan and Pakistani Kashmir. With so many people living in tent camps, and others with little shelter at all in remote areas, aid agencies fear the harsh winter could cause a second deadly disaster among the quake's survivors.

Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Farooq Nasir said people were not coming down from the mountains, at least, not yet. "They are worried for their belongings and livestock, for whom they cannot find sufficient room if they come down," Nasir said.

Winter's approach has begun to hamper frantic relief operations to the region's more remote areas, reachable by helicopter in good weather. On bad days, mules are often the only way to get in. Relief helicopters were still flying over Muzaffarabad on Wednesday, despite the cloudy skies, reports the AP. I.L.

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