Rain, snow hamper Kashmir aid effort

A week after South Asia’s strongest earthquake in 100 years, aid efforts are being hampered by bad weather and aftershocks.

Helicopters are the only aid lifeline to some remote villages
Helicopters are the only aid lifeline to some remote villages

The official toll jumped to 38,000 in Pakistan, military spokesman Shaukat Sultan said on Saturday.

The previous confirmed toll in the country was 25,000. The number of injured has also been raised to 62,000, Sultan told Reuters.


Heavy rain began falling early on Saturday in many quake-hit towns and snow fell in the surrounding mountains, disrupting efforts to help an estimated 2 million people lacking shelter ahead of the harsh Himalayan winter, The Associated Press reported.


Downpours in the past week had grounded helicopters and stopped trucks loaded with relief supplies.


Helicopter relief flights, which have been ferrying supplies into the quake zone and ferrying out the injured, were halted for about an hour and a half on Saturday morning before resuming, except to the northern town of Balakot, where the weather was particularly bad. That left hundreds of injured, cold and terrified people waiting by the helipad, hoping for the weather to clear.


In desperately short supply were what was needed most: tents.


Quake survivors cope with the rain on Saturday in Muzaffarabad

Quake survivors cope with the
rain on Saturday in Muzaffarabad

“We have begged for tents from relief workers but they say there are no more,” said Rehamatullah, a 70-year-old man who hiked to Balakot from a nearby village, looking for supplies. “We’re very worried as our families are staying in the open.”


Conditions in Balakot were miserable, Aljazeera’s Ahmed Zaidan reported. About half the city’s residents had been killed in last week’s earthquake, and those who remain were homeless and without tents, he said.


Residents said they had received little aid and complained of government disorganisation.


About 2500 soldiers had been deployed to Balakot, Zaidan said.


Earlier on Saturday, a magnitude-5 aftershock struck the quake-hit zone, but there were no immediate reports of damage or further injury. There have been more than 500 aftershocks over the past week.




At 8.51am, thousands of Muslims gathered at Islamabad’s towering Faisal mosque for special prayers for the dead, exactly a week after the temblor.


Aid was distributed by truck after air operations were halted

Aid was distributed by truck
after air operations were halted

Prayer leader Qari Nauman Ahmad urged people to donate what they could to quake victims and seek God’s forgiveness, saying continuing aftershocks were a sign that God was not happy.


The 7.6-magnitude earthquake quake struck at 8.52am (0352 GMT) on 8 October just outside that city of 70,000 people, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir at the foothills of the Himalayas, where the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates meet.

Many villages in remote mountain valleys and several large towns in Pakistani Kashmir, neighbouring North West Frontier Province and Indian-administered Kashmir across the border were nearly levelled. Roads were destroyed and blocked by landslides.


One million homeless

The United Nations estimates the earthquake left more than one million people homeless and lacking basic shelter and disrupted the lives of another three million.

In Muzaffarabad, makeshift tent cities have sprung up made up of a hotchpotch of plastic awnings, old signboards and a few real tents.


The refugees burn wood from the rubble still wet from the rain, plastic bags and bottles or even some donated clothing – whatever they can find to keep warm.

“It is very difficult. My children are crying all the time,” said Nasreen Ikram.

Helicopters taking supplies wereused to ferry back the wounded 

Helicopters taking supplies were
used to ferry back the wounded 

With chances of finding anyone to rescue fading fast, some international rescue teams had begun to leave.

Thirty people, including foreigners, remain unaccounted for in the Margala Towers apartment block, the only significant damage in Islamabad, and British rescuers were continuing work in the hope of finding more people alive.

The government has denied the search for survivors has been called off elsewhere, but in the worst-hit parts of the quake zone, the focus was switching from trying to rescue anyone from the rubble to providing emergency shelter and food.

Bad weather

But further disruption was expected at the weekend.

The 48-hour weather forecast for the region was for isolated thunderstorms followed by a cold snap that will bring night-time temperatures to as low as three degrees Centigrade (37 degrees Fahrenheit).

“Relief is going on by road but not by air”

Major Farooq Nasir,
army spokesman

Rain and hailstorms in the past week forced a suspension of aid flights, and more rain is likely to trigger further landslides and hamper road movement of emergency aid.


Major Farooq Nasir, the spokesman for the army’s emergency relief operations in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir, said: “Relief is going on by road but not by air.”

Strong aftershocks have added fear to uncertainty about the future and sent nervous residents of ruined mountain towns running into the streets every night.

The US Geological Survey has recorded 75 significant aftershocks in the week since the quake, including a magnitude 5 quake just before 1am on Saturday.

Meteorological officials said the seismic activity was likely to continue for months, maybe years.


With Pakistani and international relief organisations struggling to cope with the country’s worst natural disaster, helicopters have become the only aid lifeline to remote villages.

The UN estimates over a millionpeople have been left homeless 

The UN estimates over a million
people have been left homeless 

Hundreds of millions of dollars of aid have been pledged and emergency supplies have been flown in from around the world, but United Nations’ chief emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland called for a more urgent world aid response.

He said there was still an acute shortage of helicopters and about three times as many were needed.

“This is a very major earthquake, but it’s really aggravated a thousand times by the topography,” he said. “An earthquake is bad anywhere – in the Himalayas it becomes much worse.”

Mosques and private campaigns have encouraged Pakistanis to donate in an unprecedented outpouring of giving.

More than $38 million has been raised in the country to supplement about $350 million in international aid pledges.

The aid effort has picked up steam in recent days after a difficult start due to a shortage of helicopters needed to reach remote mountain towns and roads blocked by landslides.

About $350 million has been pledged in international aid

About $350 million has been
pledged in international aid

The army, under fire earlier for what many quake victims said was a slow response to the disaster, has been airdropping supplies to villages cut off from help in remote valleys in the Himalayan foothills.

Nasir said there were 93 helicopter sorties on Friday, bringing food and basic supplies and evacuating hundreds of injured survivors. The aircraft came from Pakistan as well as Germany, Switzerland and the United States, according to an AFP report.


Where valleys are too narrow and steep for helicopters, mule-trains are being sent to carry in the food, blankets and tents people need to survive.

The dangerous work of clearing roads is slow and painstaking, with many cars and buses buried in landslides and new ones easily set off, threatening untouched villages below.

The tragedy has straddled the divide between Pakistani and Indian-administered Kashmir that dates back to independence from British colonial rule in 1947 and over which Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars.

Pakistan has accepted Indian aid but has declined an offer of helicopters.

Egeland said old enmities should be thrown out at times like this.

“What I want to see as an aid worker is massive relief efforts crossing all borders immediately when there are needs,” he said. “Human suffering has no borders nor should our compassion or our relief time.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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