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WFP chief warns of huge aid challenge in Pakistan

The Executive Director of WFP, James Morris, has said that the logistical challenge of reaching the hundreds of thousands of people in desperate need of assistance after the 8 October earthquake was one of the toughest the aid world has ever faced and warned that time was running out.

Speaking in Dubai, Morris said that due to a combination of factors, including difficult access, high altitudes and appalling weather conditions, aid agencies were struggling to bring relief to the region.

Huge logistical challenge

“We have been presented with a huge and complex logistical challenge – one of the toughest we've ever faced,” Morris said.

“At the best of times this is very difficult terrain, but with landslides blocking roads, plus the onset of winter, getting to these people is taking far longer. And there is very little time left.”

Rising death toll

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), at least 40,000 people were killed in Pakistan and Pakistani-administered Kashmir after the earthquake struck.

There are widespread fears that the numbers could rise sharply if aid does not reach the most far-flung communities soon.

Temperatures have been falling to below freezing and hypothermia is becoming a risk to thousands of people sheltering under plastic sheeting. Large numbers of injured have been coming down from the mountains on foot and there are many cases of gangrene among them.

Desperate need

“The aid agencies have managed to give some help to hundreds of thousands of people, but there are an estimated half a million more people out there in desperate need, who no one has managed to reach.

"People don't just need food – first of all they need shelter, blankets and medical assistance – then food and clean water,” Morris said.

Bad weather

Last week, WFP began using helicopters to carry food to villages cut off by road.

But bad weather over the weekend grounded all helicopters and the agency was forced to resort to alternative means of transport – including using packhorses and mules to carry food aid along precipitous mountain paths to reach the people who needed it.

Combined response

The combined response to the earthquake has ensured that about half a million people have now received enough food to last them the next few days.

This has included high energy biscuits, which require no cooking, from WFP, supplemented by wheat flour and pulses, as well as food supplied by international non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including Islamic Relief and Concern, several Pakistani NGOs and Pakistan’s Army.

WFP's appeal

WFP is appealing to the international community for US$56 million to provide food to one million people for six months. Donors so far include Saudi Arabia (US$3.3 million), Iceland (US$75,000) and the Faroe Islands (US$16,000).

Canada (US$4.2 million) and Switzerland (US$500,000) have contributed to WFP’s appeal for US$23.6 million for air support.