Aid agencies expedite work in quake-hit Pakistan

The Pakistani army, backed by international aid agencies and U.S. helicopters, on Monday expedited efforts to provide warm clothes, winterized tents and blankets to quake survivors on northern mountaintops, an army spokesman said. Forecasters warned that the season's snow and rain would lash quake-hit areas in Kashmir and northwestern Pakistan this week. Dozens of foreign and local aid agencies have been helping provide food, shelter and other relief items since the Oct. 8 quake struck the country, killing an estimated 87,000 and leaving 3.5 million homeless, many of them living in donated tents.

Forecasters said rain and snow will start falling at mountaintops as early as Tuesday night, bringing down the temperature well below freezing and causing more problems for survivors.

Army spokesman Maj. Farooq Nasir said the military was using U.S. and its own helicopters to speed up delivery of aid, and that the operation would continue "even during rain and snow."

"Other aid agencies, like the United Nations, UNHCR, UNICEF, World Food Program, ICRC and IOM, are also helping us in efforts to keep people warm, healthy and dry," he said. "We are also providing fiberglass shelters to people living on mountains tops."

"We are fully prepared to do it," he said. Darren Boisvert, spokesman for the International Organization of Migration, or IOM, said the bad weather could hamper relief activities in the quake zone.

"When the helicopters cannot fly ... the window of opportunity will be closed," he told The Associated Press. Jan Vandemoortele, the U.N.'s humanitarian aid coordinator for quake-hit Pakistan, warned Sunday that the onset of snow and rain could cause unrest in overcrowded camps, but insisted winter preparations were in place and appealed anew to donors to keep sending money, reports the AP. I.L.

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