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Earthquake survivors battle through winter

Living in tents and dependent on food aid, the survivors of Pakistan's devastating October earthquake are battling a harsh winter. WFP spokesperson Caroline Chaumont reports.

Hundreds of people flock down the mountain on a chilly morning to the village of Dewlian to get monthly food rations.

For some of them the journey takes more than three hours.

I don’t know how we would survive without the food we get for free

Akbar, earthquake survivor

The WFP MI8 helicopter has just delivered two tonnes of wheat flour. In the warehouse there are tonnes of food neatly piled, ready to be distributed.

Distribution day

It's distribution day in a tiny village on the edge of a mountain in the Neelum valley, one of the areas devastated by the earthquake that hit Pakistan last October.

Men queue quietly waiting for the wheat flour, pulses, oil and salt they need to make it through the winter.

Copyright: 2006 WFP/Caroline Chaumont

Men queuing for food

Each family gets nearly 100 kilograms of these basic foods per month, plus dates and high energy biscuits.

Arduous trip

The ones who have already received their rations bind the precious goods with ropes and strings.

They load themselves with 50 kilograms of food each and set off up the steep road back to their remote houses.

They used to come down the mountain by car or truck, but the earthquake triggered massive landslides that cut off the road turning the trip up and down the rugged hills into an arduous and dangerous trek.

Protecting the children

Akbar comes down to get food for his 11 children. He now looks after them alone after the earthquake killed his wife.

“I don’t know how we would survive without the food we get for free,” says Akbar.

The food is enough, he adds, but he needs more corrugated iron, blankets and warm clothing to protect his family from the cold.

Copyright: 2006 WFP/Caroline Chaumont

Sakia and her sick sister

His 12-year-old daughter Sakia is with him, carrying her two-year-old sister to the closest medical centre. The toddler is sick and suffers from chest pain.

Fighting to survive

Like Akbar and his children, hundreds of thousands of people are battling to survive the freezing winter in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and the Pakistan North West Frontier Province.

The 8th October earthquake left 73,000 people dead and 3.5 million people homeless.

Since then, many have lived in tents next to their destroyed homes, enduring nights of in freezing temperatures.

Snow storms

Since the beginning of January, two snow storms have battered the area and heavy rain has made conditions even worse. Life has become extremely difficult.

“We are facing so many problems. The children are sick and we don’t have enough warm clothes,” says 35-year-old Sajilla holding her ill child in her arms.

Copyright: 2006 WFP/Caroline Chaumont

The perilous trek down the mountain

During the last storm, some tents collapsed under the weight of the snow, while others were washed away by the heavy rain.

Record helicopter fleet

WFP is striving to provide food assistance to one million people throughout the winter.

In some places, WFP has pre-positioned enough food to sustain people for up to two months, anticipating the difficulty accessing some areas during the winter.

To deliver the food in remote and high altitude villages, WFP and the UN Humanitarian Air Service operate a 26 helicopter fleet, the biggest in WFP’s history.

A normal life

The people affected are battling to make it through the winter but they are also worried about how they will resume a normal life.

We are facing so many problems. The children are sick and we don’t have enough warm clothes

Sajilla, earthquake survivor

“In March or April we hope to start working in the fields but the harvest is not until September," says Mir Muhammad Nazir chairman of the Union Council of Bheri, another high altitude village in the Neelum valley.

"If the food assistance stops coming, that will be a big problem for us,” he says.

Earthquake aftermath

The situation is difficult for many families who lost their last crop under the rubble and must survive until the next harvest in the autumn.

“I have some maize left, but my grinder has been damaged by the earthquake so I cannot use it and there is no electricity anyway,” says an old man in Dewlian.

Many lost not only loved ones but also their houses, goods and livelihoods as shops were destroyed, tools and machines were crushed under the rubble.

Copyright: 2006 WFP/Caroline Chaumont
WFP helicopter delivering food

“We used to sell apples and nuts in Muzaffarabad but because the road has been closed by landslides, we cannot go anymore,” says Naziz.

Isolation

Every day brings new landslides, cutting off vital roads which are essential if the area is to resume normal economic activity and begin the reconstruction process.

“The need for and duration of assistance could be greater and longer than originally anticipated," says Michael Jones, WFP Pakistan Country Director.

"Helicopter operations should be maintained to supply tools, equipment, chemical fertilizers, seeds and food," he says.

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