South Asian quake toll jumps to 87 350

The death toll in South Asia’s huge October 8 quake jumped on Tuesday to 87 350 following a new count of Pakistan’s casualties, officials announced.

Pakistan’s official toll jumped by 13 000—from 73 000 to 86 000—and may increase further, following a broad assessment headed by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, working with local provincial governments and aid agencies, senior Pakistani finance ministry official Iqbal Ahmed Khan said.

India has reported 1 350 deaths in its territory.

Khan said the new Pakistani toll came as result of more bodies being recovered from the rubble in the quake zone and after assessment teams reached areas that previously were inaccessible due to landslides unleashed by the quake.

“They had various teams in the field. This is feedback from the field,” Khan said. “There is a likelihood that this may increase.”

Race against winter

Meanwhile, reports Christopher Bodeen, United Nations workers on Tuesday were in a desperate race against the savage Himalayan winter and a dwindling budget to bring shelter to 350 000 of the neediest earthquake survivors in northern Pakistan at the one-month mark after South Asia’s huge quake.

The UN stepped up its appeals for more money to help victims of the quake centred in Pakistan’s portion of Kashmir, urging donors to be as generous as with other recent disasters and saying it urgently needs $42,4-million to keep bringing help through November.

“What is particularly difficult in Kashmir is that people [will] freeze to death if they don’t get assistance in weeks,” UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland said in New York.
“It’s even more urgent than it was in these other hurricanes or tsunamis.”

Egeland urged everyone, from individuals to oil-rich nations, to contribute.

The UN planned later on Tuesday to detail at a news conference in Islamabad how it must cut back its operations unless it gets more funding.

But Egeland said overnight in New York that the UN has launched “Operation Winter Race” to bring shelter to about 200 000 people living at high altitudes above the snow line in the rugged Himalayans and about 150 000 expected to come down to tent camps at lower elevations.

“The concept is one warm room per family before it becomes too cold,” he said.

Egeland said he was encouraged that 334 000 tents have been delivered and that 332 000 more are in the pipeline, “and that should be enough” if all arrive and are distributed. But he issued an urgent appeal for stoves to help keep people warm.

The quake has destroyed homes of more than three million people, many of whom have moved into the many tent camps that have been set up in foothills of the Himalayas in northern Pakistan.

But the camps pose dangers as well because most still lack adequate clean water and sanitation, aid workers say.

“Unless conditions are improved in these camps, diseases like cholera could spread like wildfire,” said quake relief head Jane Cockin, of the British charity Oxfam. “If disease does break out in the camps, the number of deaths could far exceed those in danger in their villages.”

Acute diarrhoea, tetanus and measles have already killed dozens of people since the quake. The winter could bring hypothermia, pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses.—Sapa-AP