Relief agencies in race against time

Relief agencies providing assistance and reconstruction aid to the earthquake-hit areas of northern Pakistan say they are in a race against time to provide enough shelter for millions of homeless people before winter sets in.

Agencies fear the onslaught of a harsh winter season
Agencies fear the onslaught of a harsh winter season

More than a month after a powerful earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale struck northern Pakistan and Kashmir, relief agencies and international charities have still not received adequate food, clothing and shelter for at least three million people who lost their homes.


The World Bank has estimated the death toll is at least 87,000.


Fearing that the toll could surge as temperatures begin to rapidly decline in the mountainous regions, the United Nations has repeatedly urged wealthy governments to contribute more aid to the reconstruction efforts.


The UN says it is $3 billion short in funds and the World Food Programme (WFP) said the situation was dire. They have requested $550 million in emergency aid and have received only 20% of the amount needed. The UN has recently said that the lack of funds will force them to halt airdrops to the survivors.


Musharraf: More aid


Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has chastised the global community for failing to contribute generously to the survivors.


According to the Pakistani government only $1.93 billion has been pledged of the $5 billion needed to reconstruct the region in comparison to the $13.5 billion pledged to tsunami survivors.


Musharraf had even asked the Muslims of his country to be considerate in their Eid al-Fitr celebrations, the marking of the end of Ramadan, by restraining their festivities and donating money in lieu of buying gifts.


Race against time


But Oxfam spokesperson Shaista Aziz warns time may be running out for 3.5 million displaced and homeless people in the quake-hit areas of Pakistan and Kashmir.


Musharraf said more funds had been pledged for tsunami aid 

Musharraf said more funds had
been pledged for tsunami aid 

“Winter is our biggest concern – we are about two weeks away from snowfall and we know this is a race against time,” she told


“This disaster is unprecedented in terms of what we are dealing with on the ground. Roads are narrow, landslides have started and roads have been destroyed by the earthquake,” she added.


She said that Oxfam’s relief efforts were greatly enhanced when the group gained access to a helicopter for delivery of aid.


Delivering aid by other means took up to nine hours because of difficult access to mountain villages.


Winter temperatures in the mountainous areas fall to -15C between December and March.


Individuals chip in


Fearing relief efforts may be running out of time, several entrepreneurs and charity groups have taken the initiative and set up emergency collection funds.


For Zaid Khan, 30, a New York City taxi driver and real estate investor of Kashmiri descent, the devastation wrought by the earthquake became a personal tragedy.


“My university is destroyed, the people of my village are crushed under the rubble, my whole village has become ruins,” he said.  


“My cousin died in my uncle’s arms; it doesn’t get worse than that.”


Khan’s personal pain and need to help inspired him to set up a collection fund in the United States.


His goal is to raise $5000 to help rebuild the Rawlakot Boys High School. He has urged his American friends and co-workers to contribute to his fund which he says will also provide food and shelter for up to five families.


Charity events


Elsewhere in the US, college campuses have tried to do their part in raising much-needed financial contributions.


Small charity events have beenheld in the US to raise funds

Small charity events have been
held in the US to raise funds

The Muslim Students Association at the University of Pennsylvania (part of MSA-National USA), a university funded student-led organisation, invited their university community including non-Muslims to join them in fasting for one day.


“This year we asked each person to donate $5, which is the average amount of money they saved by giving up lunch that day,” said University of Pennsylvania MSA Vice-President of Operations Sarah Rashid.


“Many Muslims used these donation opportunities to send their Zakat Al-Fitr to the relief effort,” Rashid told


Proceeds of nearly $5000 were donated to the universities own earthquake relief fund which will provide winter-ready tents to those affected by the earthquake.


ICRC responds


But sometimes improper distribution of individual contributions and funds could end up hampering relief efforts rather than adding to them, the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) says.

The ICRC has distributed tents tomore than 4000 families

The ICRC has distributed tents to
more than 4000 families


“This is why individuals worldwide should best support humanitarian organisations that are indeed able to deliver aid and do it according to the highest ethical and quality standards,” said ICRC spokeswoman Nada Doumani. 


Following the disaster, the ICRC collaborated with other humanitarian groups, mainly the Red Crescent, to raise money and collect relief items for the survivors.


“The ICRC’s priority is to save lives by treating the injured and evacuating those who needed more complex treatment by helicopter,” said Doumani.


So far, the ICRC has distributed more than 55,300 blankets, 10,700 tarpaulins, 4100 family tents and 430 tons of food to earthquake victims. The ICRC plans to assist 200,000 people with shelter material and food in Muzaffarabad.


Expanding aid budgets


In addition, the ICRC has launched a website, for individuals to communicate with family members via online forums. The website is in English and is open to everyone.


It encourages people to enlist themselves as “safe and well”. The information in the database is listed in public places and broadcasted on radio for people with no access to the internet.


On 17 October, the ICRC launched an appeal to extend its initial budget for Pakistan which now amounts to over $48 million for 2005 only.


So far, about $13 million has been pledged and received. The ICRC urgently seeks the help of international governments and Red Cross/ Red Crescent societies in funding its operations in Pakistan.


“Such catastrophes require huge response and no single organisation could cover all needs. On the ground, the ICRC closely coordinates its action with the authorities and other humanitarian organisation, including Islamic Relief and a number of local charities,” Doumani told 


More international aid urged


According to Islamic Relief Deputy UK Manager Abdelaziz Rajab-Ali, his group’s main objective is to get winter-ready tents and medical aid to the survivors as well as continuing their campaign to governments for more funding.


The British government has already pledged 33 million pounds that have been allocated for emergency relief.


The UK government has pledged33 million pounds so far

The UK government has pledged
33 million pounds so far

“We were able to raise 2 million pounds within hours of the earthquake … we are urging the British government to commit 200 million pounds sterling and the US government to give $2 billion as well as $1 billion from Middle Eastern countries collectively … for long term rehabilitation and reconstruction,” he said.


“We cannot underestimate the importance of every action and penny raised … we must continue to raise money over the next few months … to help rebuild peoples lives,” Rajab-Ali told


Islamic Relief was the first organisation to provide tents and emergency aid to the people of Bagh in correlation with Citigroup and The Hyde Commission. 

Relief efforts gain pace

But there may be a glimmer of hope.

Oxfam’s Aziz told that relief efforts had gained considerable speed in the past few weeks with several projects up and running.


Oxfam has deployed its engineers to restore a supply of clean water to almost 100,000 people and plans to provide water to an additional 500,000 in 14 emergency settlements.


In addition, Oxfam is doing what it can to sanitise water and curb the spread of disease in the many camps that have been set up for the survivors of the quake.


Disaster relief experts have warned that the spread of diseases such as cholera and the upcoming cold weather could kill as many people as the initial earthquake.


“People have given generously, but we encourage Western and Opec countries to help before it is too late,” Aziz said.

Source: Al Jazeera

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