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Lack of funds and blocked roads creating "death traps" in Kashmir

Just over two weeks after this month’s devastating earthquake in north-eastern Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir, WFP has warned that blocked roads, snow and a serious lack of funding could create a death trap for tens of thousands of people who survived.

A critical window of just five weeks remains for WFP to pre-position food stocks to last six months for tens of thousands of people in the most remote areas that may be completely cut off by the onset of winter.

Need for speed

“It must be clear to everybody that many people could die if we do not move more quickly. We must have much more funding, much sooner, to gain as much speed as humanly possible in the face of gigantic logistics difficulties,” said WFP Regional Director for the Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe, Amir Abdulla.

Since the massive earthquake struck on 8 October, WFP has been able to send nearly 3,000 tons of food using planes, helicopters, trucks, rafts and pack mules to hundreds of thousands of affected people in one of the most rugged terrains in the world.

Funding shortfall

We must have much more funding, much sooner, to gain as much speed as humanly possible in the face of gigantic logistics difficulties
Amir Abdulla, WFP's Regional Director for the Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe
However, the UN food aid agency has so far received only about 13 percent of its US$56 million food appeal targeted at about one million people until mid-April 2006.

“These figures will probably rise once we conclude our rapid assessments. In addition, up to three times as much money could be needed for the land and air logistics operations that WFP is handling on behalf of almost all humanitarian agencies in Pakistan,” Abdulla added.

Frustration and anger

People stricken by grief and loss – and further traumatised by continuing aftershocks – are expressing frustration and anger over their inability to meet their basic needs.

In remote mountainous areas southeast of Muzaffarabad, angry residents expressed their concern about the slowness of relief.

Road blockages are still preventing access to hundreds of thousands of people in the upper slopes, while landslides in various places such as Neelum Valley continue to pose a threat to the movement of people and vehicles.

Helicopters

Helicopters are being used to move food into many villages in the valley and ferry out the injured.

“Villagers from 11 communities came down from the mountains to Bheri village where distributions were being conducted by the Pakistan army. They wanted more food and desperately need shelter. On the way out of the valley, we took four injured people with us in the chopper,” a WFP aid worker said.

Himalayan foothills

The most seriously affected areas are in Pakistan-administered Kashmir in the foothills of the Himalayas, where thousands of villages and isolated settlements are scattered over 28,000 square kilometres and most roads and bridges were destroyed.

The temperature has already fallen under the freezing point in many places at night, but in less than three weeks it will become much colder and many areas will become more difficult to reach.

In less mountainous districts such as Mansehra and Bagh, food distribution is moving more smoothly. In Bagh district nearly 11,000 people received a ration of pulses and vegetable oil earlier this week.

Donors to date

Contributions to WFP’s emergency operation to provide food to the earthquake survivors include Saudi Arabia (US$3.3 million), Japan (US$2.5 million), Australia (US$1.5 million), Iceland (US$75,000), private donations (US$18,000) and the Faroe Islands (US$16,000).

Canada has contributed US$4.7 million to the WFP’s US$23.6 million appeal for air support for the relief operation; other contributors to air support so far are the United States (US$3.5 million) and Switzerland (US$500,000).