Disease spreads among Pakistan quake survivors

A strong aftershock rattled south-western Pakistan on Saturday, as aid agencies warned that disease had begun to spread among tens of thousands of earthquake survivors waiting for relief supplies.

The five-magnitude quake struck just before 6am in the mountainous province of Baluchistan, where a powerful pre-dawn tremor on Wednesday killed up to 300 people and left 70 000 people homeless.

There were no immediate reports of further casualties or damage as a result of the latest aftershock, the second strongest of more than 250 tremors to have shaken the region since Wednesday’s quake.

Aid has begun reaching devastated villages, but angry villagers in remote areas said they desperately needed shelter, with thousands of people whose mud-brick homes were flattened sleeping in the open in freezing temperatures.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) said on Friday it and Pakistani government officials assessed the situation in the worst-hit districts and were “concerned about the urgent needs of children and women”.

“With winter closing in, the most urgent needs of the survivors are shelter, safe drinking water, food, warm clothing and emergency medical assistance,” a Unicef statement said.

Clean water was a “priority”, it said, adding that children were especially vulnerable to diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera.

The district health officer of the stricken hill town of Ziarat, Ayub Kakar, said that children were already suffering from exposure to the harsh conditions.

“Due to the cold, hundreds of children are being treated for pneumonia, abdominal diseases, diarrhoea and chest problems,” he said.

“We fear the death toll will rise. Such diseases, if not treated in time, are life-threatening,” Kakar said.

Children could be seen running after cars on the road adjoining the affected areas begging for food and drink, witnesses said.

Residents in the quake-hit village of Khanozai, near Ziarat, blocked the main road in protest at the lack of relief goods despite government pledges to help them, an Agence France-Presse reporter saw.

“Our children are dying, help us,” cried Mohammad Khan, the owner of an apple orchard.

In another village, Ahmadoon, people said they were making tents from scavenged clothing.

“No one from the government has so far inquired about our welfare,” said Allah Noor, a teacher.

“Our children could not sleep during the night because of the cold and continued tremors shaking the mountains. People do not go to their damaged houses even to take out food because they fear more tremors,” Noor said.

Military and paramilitary troops have provided more than 2 000 tents and 15 tonnes of food rations, Major General Mohammed Khan said, adding more would arrive in the coming days, but warned that reconstruction could take months.—AFP

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