Pakistan: UN Agencies In Overdrive To Save Quake Victims As Winter Looms
United Nations agencies are working flat out to bring help to hundreds of thousands of survivors of Pakistan’s
worst-ever earthquake before the onslaught of the harsh Himalayan winter further impedes access, but major funding
shortfalls are hampering the efforts.
“This really is a race against time and the weather. If we lose, people are going to suffer even more,” UN High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva today, noting that
Pakistani staff, including truck drivers, have agreed to work right through this week’s Muslim Eid holiday.
But the agency has so far received only $5.5 million of the $30 million it needs for the emergency operation, including
the joint airlift with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) of tents, blankets, mattresses and stoves for the
survivors of the 8 October quake, which has already killed more than 50,000 people, injured some 74,000 others and left
over 3 million homeless.
Yesterday, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) warned that it might be forced to ground its relief helicopters, the sole
lifeline for hundreds of thousands of survivors, within the next two weeks because of lack of funds to fly them.
UNHCR has so far provided over 2,000 tonnes of supplies, including 232,000 blankets, 20,000 tents, 83,300 plastic
sheets, 33,000 jerry cans and many other items. “While 2,000 tonnes is a lot, it's still just a drop in the bucket when
we look at the enormous needs,” Ms. Pagonis said. UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director, Ann M. Veneman this
weekend became the first head of a UN humanitarian agency to visit the devastated region, where it is estimated that
nearly half the victims are children 18 and under.
“Enormous challenges remain. There are large numbers of people who have still not been reached. We have a short critical
window of time to act before the Himalayan winter sets in,” she said after touring the ravaged Balakot and Muzzafarabad
“The children and their families cannot wait much longer. We must do everything we can to ensure their survival. They
need shelter and care as quickly as possible without urgent action from us large numbers of children could die
immediately,” she added.
More funding is urgently needed to save lives now, she stressed. “We will be here throughout this crisis and after. But
this cannot happen without substantial additional investment,” she declared.
“We need urgent large scale support to control disease, malnutrition and to improve water supply and sanitation. Without
this children and adults will die of preventable disease – and this is already happening.”