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Pakistan: Relief Worker Describes Race To Shelter Quake Survivors

Earthquake victims receiving aid in Kashmir on 18 October Ten days after the devastating earthquake that killed more than 40,000 people in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, aid operations are continuing to provide medicine and shelter to the thousands of wounded and homeless. Efforts have been hindered by shortages. A senior relief officials with the United Nations says there are not enough available tents in the world to provide the needed shelter for quake survivors as winter closes in. Olivier Moeckli, a communications officer with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is currently based in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir. He spoke today to RFE/RL about the situation in the areas affected by the quake.

RFE/RL: How is the situation in the affected areas? What does it look like there some 10 days after the earthquake?

Moeckli: There are still many persons in the mountains, many wounded. The situation geographically is very difficult. There are hundreds of villages scattered around and there are many, many people who have been affected. They are extremely difficult to reach. For the past five days, the ICRC is participating in helicopter operations to bring back wounded from the mountains. There are many helicopters here flying around. On the other side, it’s improving -- roads are opening in lower parts of the valleys, and eventually aid is going to be much easier to bring.

RFE/RL: Could you describe the situation in some of the affected villages you have visited?

Moeckli: It’s different. It goes from villages which are completely destroyed -- there is not one single house standing. You can also have very near to the same place a village where houses have stayed up. But generally every village has at least some houses destroyed. There are thousands of villages out there, so it’s huge.

RFE/RL: What are the most urgent needs of the survivors?

Moeckli: For the moment, it’s still huge medical needs and tents. Nights are very cold and these people need tents and blankets, things to keep them warm.

RFE/RL: A UN official has said that there are not enough tents to protect people from the cold. What is going to happen to them once the winter arrives?

Moeckli: It’s one of the problems we are facing here. Everything has to be delivered by helicopter. Tents are the most difficult items to transport by helicopter because you can only transport a few of them. So the limitation is more the capacity to deliver than the actual availability of tents. There are many more helicopters arriving. It is also difficult to find landing places, but the efforts are increasing to be able to deliver as much as possible during the next month. We don’t expect snow yet, so there is still time to deliver, but it’s urgent to do it before the snow.

RFE/RL: The French aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) has warned of a potential epidemic of water-borne diseases. How serious is the threat?

Moeckli: Well, of course, there are many people wounded, there are corpses buried in the destroyed houses, so there is a risk to have water affected by that. But according to what we think there is no immediate [threat] of epidemic. But there is an urgent need to make sure that clean water is available. So, for instance, ICRC is working in Muzaffarabad and in a city in the mountains to rehabilitate the water network and hopefully in some days, clean water should be available in Muzaffarabad.

RFE/RL: What about the villages?

Moeckli: In remote villages people were relying more on [other water] sources and wells. We have been carrying out several assessments without noticing any immediate risk of pollution of water there.

RFE/RL: What are the latest figures you have on the number of dead and injured?

Moeckli: The complete assessment -- mainly carried out by the [Pakistani] army, who is flying around in all the villages to try to have a precise idea -- is not over, and it will take some more weeks to have a final or a more precise estimation. The latest figures which are circulating, which still remain estimations, are about 50,000 dead and probably more than 100,000 wounded.

RFE/RL: What does the future hold for Kashmir?

Moeckli: There is going to be a huge amount of reconstruction to be done, that’s obvious. The amount of destruction here is extremely huge. Personally, I’m in the middle of that, I’ve seen many wounded people these last days that we were evacuating, so we are all working very hard here, winter is coming. I hope we are going to be able to help these people to pass winter in safe conditions.

See also:

Pakistan: RFE/RL Speaks With Kashmir Affairs Minister

Hopes Of 'Earthquake Diplomacy' Crushed As Quake Survivors Await Help
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.