Aid group warns harsh winter may kill thousands in Pakistan

The British aid group Oxfam warned on Wednesday that the harsh winter could cause a new wave of casualties in quake-hit northern Pakistan unless international donors honor pledges for millions of homeless survivors. "With the onset of winter, thousands of people remain vulnerable," Oxfam Director Barbara Stocking said at the start of a two-day tour of camps in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, where a large number of about 3.5 million survivors have been living in tents.

"The international community has still not responded with urgently needed resources," she said in a statement.

The 7.6-magnitude quake on Oct. 8 killed about 87,000 people and left about 3.5 million homeless. Uprooted survivors have been mostly relying on donated food, clothes, blankets and other essential items as aid workers worried about the onset of snow and rains.

Oxfam has urged the world community to continue providing money so U.N. aid agencies can continue flying helicopters to ferry aid to survivors living on the highlands.

The United Nations says it has received less than half of the money it requested for its initial response to the quake. Of the US$551 million (Ђ459 million) requested for the U.N.'s emergency appeal, less than US$230 million (Ђ191 million) has reached the world organization.

Additionally, whereas US$1.1 billion (Ђ915 million) was promised for Pakistan's reconstruction efforts, less than US$800 million (Ђ666 million) has materialized, Oxfam said, adding that many of the pledges were in the shape of concessional loans instead grants.

According to the U.N., an estimated 2.5 million people were living in tents below 1,500 meters (4,921 feet), while 350,000 to 400,000 people remained at risk in higher areas.

"The key challenge of the United Nations and other humanitarian partners remains the provision of thermal protection for the survivors, ensuring there is adequate emergency shelter, both at 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) and above, as well as food, heath care and good camp conditions to take them through the winter," said Ben Malor, a spokesman for the U.N.'s relief operation in Islamabad, reports the AP. I.L.

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