Several pneumonia deaths have already been reported among children who survived the 8 October earthquake in Pakistan and its zone of Kashmir, hit hardest by the quake.
In the Indian part of the disputed region, thousands more risk the same fate with children and the elderly particularly in peril, doctors say.
“We’re dying out here in tents,” said Sakina Banu, 34, housed in a tent in Kalgai village in Uri district, one of the quake-affected regions. Her nine-year-old daughter died last week after developing a fever.
Doctors said the body was buried before they could determine the cause of death. But so far there have been no deaths officially linked to the cold in Indian Kashmir, the army said.
“Our medical teams regularly visit these areas to treat patients,” said army spokesman Vijay Batra.
Cut off from outside
Some parts of Uri, which lies in the shadow of the Tangdar mountain range, were already under snow. The road between Srinagar, summer capital of Indian Kashmir, and Tangdhar village, got one metre (3ft) of snow.
“Tents are the only shelter we have,” said Barkat Ali, 40, a barber in Tangdar, nestled in a valley ringed by the pine-clad mountains lying 170km (105 miles) northwest of Srinagar.
The survivors are stockpiling
The valley, where temperatures are sub-zero (32F) for most of the winter, is cut off from the outside world by massive snow drifts for long periods.
Ali said he had stocked up on more fuel than food. “Snow falls heavily here. We can survive without much food, but not without heat,” he said.
Srinagar doctor Pervez Masudi said tents could not protect villagers from the cold. “They must be shifted to more permanent dwellings or they risk getting cold-related illnesses like pneumonia,” he said. Uri doctor Bashir Ahmed agreed.
“The people in tents are at a big risk of falling victim to hypothermia,” Ahmed said.
The 7.6-magnitude earthquake killed more than 73,000 people in Pakistan and its zone of Kashmir. But it also caused damage in Indian Kashmir where it claimed 1300 lives and left an estimated 150,000 homeless.
Second wave of deaths
“The people in tents are at a big risk of falling victim to hypothermia”
The UN has warned of a second wave of deaths from cold, disease and hunger among the total 3.5 million left homeless as winter takes hold in the divided region claimed by both India and Pakistan.
Indian Kashmir authorities said they were racing to build semi-permanent wooden and metal structures. Last year avalanches killed more than 300 people and left some areas isolated for months.
“We’re doing our best,” said Abdul Majeed, a senior administrator.
He said more than 12,000 metal sheds that can each house a family and more than 1000 community centres that can shelter about 300 people had been built.
“We’re stocking essentials,” said Ghulam Nabi Aiywan, 34, a farmer whose family was among 80 in tents in Drangadi, near Tangdar.
The earthquake flattened all the houses in Aiywan’s nearby village, but its 436 residents escaped.