Death toll in Pakistan quake zone receding, U.N. says

Conditions in Pakistan's quake-stricken areas remain difficult but fears of a new wave of deaths among survivors are fading, and aid workers are now planning for the region's recovery, the United Nations said Friday. "A couple of months ago we feared a second wave of deaths. It has not happened but we remain vigilant," Jan Vandemoortele, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Pakistan, told a news conference.

Some 3.5 million people lost their homes in the Oct. 8 earthquake, which killed about 80,000 people in northwestern Pakistan and in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, which is midway through a bitter winter.

"The situation remains difficult but it's not critical. The rains and snow often make it miserable but not unmanageable," Vandemoortele said. He said there have been no major epidemics, population movements or reports of severe malnutrition.

Returning from a trip this week to the quake zone, Vandemoortele said 5 million corrugated iron sheets were being delivered for temporary shelters, while residents were collecting government compensation money to help them rebuild.

"What was striking was that, for the first time in our discussions with the military and our humanitarian partners, the concerns about the post-relief phase received as much attention as the relief phase itself," he said.

International donors have pledged more than US$6 billion (Ђ4.9 billion) to Pakistan to help in relief and reconstruction.

The United Nations itself, however, is still "living from paycheck to paycheck" to sustain its aid effort through the winter, and has so far received only US$343 million (Ђ280 million) of the US$550 million (Ђ450 million) it has sought from donors.

Vandemoortele said the U.N. was operating 27 helicopters at a total cost of about US$500,000 (Ђ408,000) a day. The choppers are vital for ferrying supplies around the mountains, where road links are often blocked by snow and landslides, reports the AP. I.L.

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