The head of WFP said the agency can guarantee winter food supplies for hundreds of thousands of earthquake survivors in remote high-altitude villages in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, but stressed the need for continuing donor support for one of the most challenging logistical operations WFP has ever faced.
The warning came as WFP and the Government of Pakistan agreed that the UN agency should take on responsibility for providing emergency food to 400,000 people who can only be reached by air, double the previous target figure of 200,000.
“With better information and more surveys, we now believe that up to 400,000 people can be reached only by air in high villages where access roads are blocked by landslides or will be covered with too much snow to pass in a few weeks,” WFP Executive Director James Morris said in Islamabad after touring some of the affected areas earlier today.
“To help the people in areas only accessible by air, we will have to fly in 6,000 tons of food a month. Our helicopters will be more vital than ever and sustained donor support will be absolutely essential,” said Morris.
In addition to the people reachable only by air, WFP has also accepted responsibility for 600,000 people who can be reached by land, including some 250,000 living in camps.
Of the 600,000, around 150,000 children in tented schools and a further 150,000 children under five and nursing and pregnant mothers will receive supplementary feeding.
In addition to the one million people assisted by WFP, the Government will provide assistance to three million people and ICRC will help 150,000 others.
WFP has to date distributed about 21,000 tons of food to one million people in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, since these areas were devastated by an earthquake on 8 October, which killed nearly 80,000 people.
Mountaineers and trekkers
We must move more food at a time when our capacity to do so is under threat from winter weather
WFP Executive Director James Morris
To help get a more accurate estimate of people in hard-to-access areas, WFP recently contracted a team of 15 mountaineers and trekkers with detailed local knowledge and dropped them by helicopter in the most remote valleys.
The teams made head counts of the people determined to remain there, as well as those on their way to lower ground, Morris said.
Using this information, a detailed list of the affected population was prepared, providing the basis for a new geographical division of food aid responsibilities between WFP, the Government, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Morris sounded a cautious note about the major logistics challenges in the quake-hit rugged mountainous area that spans over 28,000 square km.
“Winter has arrived. The first cold weather-related deaths have been reported. Our air operations, on which much of the humanitarian community relies, will face increasing disruptions because of poor visibility.
"Roads have already begun to become impassable because of slick conditions and rock- or mudslides. The worse the conditions become on the ground, the more heavily we will rely on our helicopters.”
WFP also has bolstered its food rations for the winter, to provide extra calories needed to survive in cold weather.
This means that one ton of food, which used to be considered enough to feed 66 people for one month, now is deemed sufficient only to keep 54 people alive for a month.
“In other words, we must move more food at a time when our capacity to do so is under threat from winter weather,” Morris said.
Out of a total of US$182 million required for WFP emergency operations including support for the air shipment of various relief supplies, WFP is still seeking nearly US$115 million.
“Our donors have been supportive and I expect this shortfall to decrease soon – especially after the generous offer from the Government of Pakistan and the provincial government in Muzaffarabad to provide nearly 56,000 tons of food for WFP to distribute,” Morris said.
“This donation is an invaluable lifeline and will help people stay alive through the winter months. It also brings us to within reach of having all the food we need for our emergency operations through April,” Morris said.
WFP’s Executive Director further praised the Pakistan military’s close and extensive cooperation in the delivery of food assistance.
“Our work would have been impossible without the invaluable assistance of the Pakistan military.
Soldiers and airmen alike have made tremendous personal sacrifices to come to the aid of people in the earthquake zone and they have taken the lead in reopening roads, delivering humanitarian supplies, evacuating those in need of emergency medical attention, and ensuring the conditions that allow the international community to do its work of assisting the Government and people in this time of need,” he said.