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CURRENT ISSUE:  November 21, 2005VOL. 43, NO. 20Oakland, CA

Catastrophe looms for quake survivors

Winter snows have begun falling in the higher elevations of Pakistan and more than 3 million Pakistanis remain homeless – victims of the 7.6 magnitude earthquake that devastated much of Pakistan and parts of India last month.

With an estimated death toll of some 80,000 and an almost equal number of residents reported injured, humanitarian relief agencies – including Catholic Relief Services – are scrambling to provide transitional shelter for those facing freezing temperatures. They are concerned that time will soon run out, leaving hundreds of thousands at risk of death.

In a relief strategy valued at more than $10 million dollars, CRS has already provided winterized, transitional shelter for some 75,000 individuals and distributed emergency relief supplies including blankets, tarps and kitchen/cooking equipment.

But the efforts to provide such emergency supplies to remote villages are hampered by lack of accessible roads. Relief workers often hike for hours over mountainous terrain to assess victims’ needs, and they are using donkeys to transport supplies to the villagers.

As world experts predict an “unusually harsh winter” for the region – especially in the higher elevations above Kashmir – the need for additional housing for those displaced by the earthquake has reached a critical point. The United Nations has called upon countries and organizations throughout the world to increase their aid.

Graham Saunders, CRS’ shelter and settlement technical advisor, acknowledges that the challenges are daunting: steep mountains, cold climate, blocked or no roads, lack of enough people to reach families and villages that are spread far apart.

“Many villages require walking hours up steep mountains from the nearest road,” said Saunders. “Also, the scale of the disaster is huge. To provide shelter for more than three million people is a massive undertaking. And, to do all of this in a short window of time makes this an incredibly challenging relief effort.”

Provash Budden, CRS’ deputy regional director for South Asia, said, “We have until mid-December…you can see the snowline slowly getting lower to where people are living. As each day passes, relief efforts become more challenging. The night-time temperature is well below freezing. Simply put, we’re in a race against time.”

Considered one of the lead relief agencies in the region, CRS has worked in Pakistan on both relief and development projects for more than 50 years. CRS Pakistan staffs were literally “on-site” during the initial quake and able to begin assessing the crisis at the temblor’s epicenter within hours of the disaster and during subsequent aftershocks.

The agency has focused heavily on some of the more remote regions in Pakistan and India for emergency relief efforts. More information about ongoing efforts in Pakistan and on how to donate towards the South Asia Earthquake Response project can be found online at www.catholicrelief.org.

These Kashmiri boys, survivors of last month’s massive earthquake, imitate their fathers praying outside their tents. Getting relief supplies to millions of quake victims remains a logistical nightmare and race against time.

RNS PHOTO/ REUTERS/Kimimasa Mayama




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