Quake tents 'not adequate' for winter

Aid officials warned on Friday that almost all of the hundreds of thousands of tents they distributed to survivors of Pakistan’s massive earthquake last month aren’t adequate for the harsh winter, while Pakistan announced soldiers have built 30 000 shelters for the 3,5-million people who lost their homes.

Using corrugated iron sheets, the army is constructing about 5 000 shelters for quake survivors each day, the military said in a statement, while thousands in north-west Pakistan and Pakistan’s portion of Kashmir have built shelters with the assistance of aid agencies, soldiers and volunteers.

Still, aid agencies are warning that a lack of food and shelter, combined with increasingly harsh winter conditions, could cause a second wave of deaths for victims of the October 8 earthquake.

In Islamabad, an aid official warned on Friday that 90% of the 420 000 tents distributed to survivors of Pakistan’s massive earthquake are not “winterised” and are not by themselves adequate for the freezing Himalayan weather that is already rolling into the area.

Darren Boisvert, spokesperson for the International Organisation for Migration, said relief efforts have focused on the people in the highest mountain villages, rather than the hundreds of thousands living in non-winterised tents in refugee camps lower down.

He said 5 000 tents that are adequate for winter have been distributed to those above the snow line, and another 5 000 will be distributed by December 12.

“Winterised tents are expensive, they are hard to procure, and must be shipped from overseas,” he said.

Also on Friday, Pakistan’s top relief official, Mohammed Farooq Khan, urged countries to send more winterised tents and corrugated iron sheets, and said reconstruction activities will begin after the completion of a survey to determine what areas are safe, probably in another few weeks.

At least eight people are known to have died from cold-related ailments such as pneumonia since the onset of the brutal Himalayan winter, and hundreds stream into hospitals every day.

Doctors say the situation could worsen in the coming weeks if arrangements are not made quickly to provide adequate shelters for the estimated 3,5-million people who lost their homes in the 7,6-magnitude quake.

On Thursday, a moderate aftershock was felt in north-western Pakistan, Islamabad and some areas of Kashmir, according to Pakistan’s meteorological department.

The weather was also deteriorating rapidly.

Strong winds and subfreezing temperatures were forecast again for Friday. The cold was expected to get particularly harsh in the higher mountain villages. Some roads have been closed and others declared unsafe.
Rain and snow have also hampered aid operations.

Jan Vandemoortele, the United Nations’s top aid coordinator in Pakistan, said on Friday that a “colossal job” remains.

“The first snowfall last week gave us a taste of what the future will be,” he said at a news conference in Islamabad. “The situation remains very difficult.”

Officials also are seeking to keep the focus on the immediate needs of survivors instead of shifting to long-term reconstruction.

Pakistan’s government, meanwhile, thanked Nato for its help, but said it can wrap up its relief operations in January, when its 90-day mandate expires.—Sapa-AP

Associated Press writer Eric Talmadge contributed to this report from Islamabad

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