ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – The chief of the World Food Program appealed Saturday for urgent funds to keep helicopters flying to quake-ravaged areas through the winter, calling it the most difficult logistical task the U.N. agency has ever faced.
Fearing a second wave of deaths, soldiers and emergency workers have been racing to get food and shelter to survivors of the Oct. 8 quake that killed 87,000 people in Pakistan and India. Most of the deaths from the magnitude-7.6 temblor were in Kashmir, the Himalayan territory divided between the two countries, but claimed in entirety by both.
The World Food Program has accepted responsibility for feeding 1.3 million people, while 3 million are getting assistance from the government and 150,000 from the international Red Cross.
World Food Program director James Morris said the agency has enough money to keep making aid flights to remote areas through January, but needs another $70 million to fund the air operation until April 30.
Trucks, donkeys, horses and Himalayan trekkers also have been used to reach the most remote areas.
“We need substantial help, and the helicopters are critical, given the weather, the rugged terrain and our need to preposition a huge amount of food in places throughout the affected area before the weather gets terrible,” Morris said.
“The worse the conditions become on the ground, the more heavily we will rely on our helicopters. We have never had a crisis where the use of helicopters was so critical.”
Doctors struggling with the constant flow of patients in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan’s part of Kashmir that was hit hard by the quake, warned that the number of sick could swell now that the winter cold has set in.
Within the previous 24 hours alone, a total of 234 patients suffering from winter-related ailments had been admitted to the state-run Abbas Institute of Medical Science hospital, medical superintendent Bashir Rahman said.
“The situation now is under control, but in the coming days it could get worse, especially for people living at high altitude,” he said.
Pakistani soldiers are building 5,000 shelters a day. Aid workers say most of the hundreds of thousands of tents that have been distributed won’t protect quake survivors from the cold, and that corrugated iron shelters are needed.
The army has constructed about 30,000 such shelters.