Fear spreads in Kashmir villages

There's no phone service, no open roads and no stockpiles of vegetables that would normally have been hoarded before the winter snows started falling. Like many villages in quake-hit Kashmir, Sharda is cut off. As the Himalayan winter bites, the fear of isolation is widespread. Last week, residents in two areas stormed U.N. helicopters and demanded to be transported to low-lying cities, forcing a suspension in aid flights. The flights were due to resume Tuesday.

"They are so scared because they are being cut off and feeling insecure," David Vadachkoria, a program officer with the World Food Program, said of the people who stormed the aircraft. The Oct. 8 earthquake that killed some 87,000 people and left another 3.5 million homeless disrupted transport links that allow isolated villages to prepare for winter.

Even in places like Sharda, where buildings suffered cracks from the quake but are still standing, residents cut off for months by landslides and now snow must rely on international help to make it through the season.

In Sharda, Vadachkoria made clear to residents during a visit Monday that U.N. aircraft would only be used to transport passengers in the event of a serious medical emergency. During aid deliveries, a handful of Pakistani soldiers provided security at a helicopter landing site on the yard of a boys' school.

Roads to the area were cut off in the quake and reopened for only a couple weeks last month before snow sealed them shut again. Local residents complained they hadn't received any aid since the quake, and that shortages have sent prices skyrocketing.

Flour has doubled in price and oil has increased by 40 percent, said Muhammad Afzal Qureshi, 35, a schoolteacher.

"Normally we stock food for six months. Now this year we can't stock food because the road is closed," he said. "I'm cut off from everywhere, I'm worried. Tonight more snow is coming, then what will I do?"

Pharmacist Ziaur Rehman, 27, worried that his shelves were running low on stocks of antibiotics and analgesics. "Normally winter in this area is very dangerous, but these days is even more dangerous," he said. "There are not any facilities in this area, no telephone, no medicine, no doctors."

The Pakistan government normally provides annual aid to Sharda and the surrounding district of some 20,000 people to help them survive the winter. But the government recently asked the United Nations to take over the task of providing for isolated areas while it assists other regions, Vadachkoria said.

Kinks were still being worked out for deliveries to Sharda, located about 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of the regional capital Muzaffarabad at an elevation of 1,840 meters (6,035 feet), reports the AP. I.L.

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