Prague, 26 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan opened yesterday's donor conference for earthquake victims in Pakistan with a warning that blocked roads, snow, and a serious lack of funding could create a death trap for tens of thousands of people in Pakistan who survived the South Asia earthquake on 8 October.
"We meet today to prevent a second wave of deaths -- or second shock waves of deaths -- and to prevent further suffering. While no one could have had the power to prevent the earthquake from happening, we do have the power to stop the next wave -- the deaths and despair caused by freezing termperatures and disease, by lack of shelter, food and water," Annan said.
The confirmed death toll from the quake now stands at more than 53,000. More than 74,000 people were injured -- and many of the injured still haven't received medical treatment.
Annan reiterated the message of relief workers who say they have until the end of November to provide shelter to hundreds of thousands of people who were made homeless by the quake. Food supplies also must be brought quickly in to the most remote areas to last throughout the harsh winter. And funds for humanitarian aid need to be disbursed as quickly as possible.
But according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, only about $90 million has been contributed or pledged so far to the Flash Appeal Fund -- which aims to collect more than $300 million in immediate assistance.
Michael Zwack, the deputy representative in Islamabad for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has been trying to provide aid to millions of people in Pakistan affected by the devastating quake.
"My message and our message to the international community is that 'vitamin M' is the thing that we need now -- and that's money. We can not continue to use our own operational reserves. Most of our agencies, I believe, are also standing ready for other disasters that could happen around the world," Zwack said. "We need to respond to this disaster with a special flash appeal. We need the assistance of the international community to be able to carry out the mandates that have been given to us by the United Nations and also the government of Pakistan."
Rashid Khalikov, the UN's top humanitarian aid coordinator, was in Pakistani-administered Kashmir's capital of Muzaffarabad on 23 October issuing similar pleas for international help.
"From a logistical point of view this is possibly the most challenging emergency operation that the international
humanitarian community has ever faced. According to some estimates, between 800,000 and 900,000 people only in [Pakistani-administered Kashmir] have been affected to the extent that they have no housing. It is the equivalent of about 150,000 families. And therefore shelter is our top priority," Khalikov said.
Khalikov says the scale of the emergency is such that the emergency stocks of tents across the world need to be brought into the region before the worst of the winter storms begin in about five weeks.
"We have around 60,000 tents already procured and being delivered here. Around 190,000 are in the pipeline. We are not sure how quickly it will happen at this point. But one can see that all the tents available in the world are being mobilized for this effort," Khalikov said.
Mia Turner, an aid worker with the UN's World Food Program, has been trying to get shipments of wheat to villages in the mountains surrounding Muzaffarabad. But the terrain makes the task extremely difficult even before winter.
Turner says it is necessary to stockpile a six-month supply of food aid in the most isolated regions before the end of November.
"It's very difficult to find ways to reach some of these villages. We are doing helicopter drops -- we will probably start them in about three days. There are no roads up here. For the moment, this [transport by mule] is the only way," Turner said.
UN General Assembly President Jan Eliasson said in New York yesterday that he is confident members states will make adequate funds available during today's donor conference in Geneva so that humanitarian agencies can respond as quickly as possible.
But Eliasson cautioned about what he called a "further dramatic rise in the death toll" if aid is not delivered before the first snowfall in northern Pakistan. Eliasson says what is most urgently needed are basic supplies -- winter tents, blankets, sleeping bags, stoves, kitchen sets, fuel, clean water, and vaccinations.