10,000-plus Pakistani children face death within weeks

Tens of thousands of children are in peril in remote earthquake-stricken parts of Pakistan due to worsening weather, injury and illness, and 10,000 could die within the next few weeks unless helicopters and other vital needs are supplied immediately, the United Nations Children’s Fund warned today.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the massive relief operation launched in the wake of the quake, which killed at least 40,000 people, injured more than 65,000 others and left 3.3 million homeless, was in danger of losing the race against time if more than 100,000 tents were not immediately airlifted in.

“The relief effort is becoming more complex with each passing day,” UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said in Copenhagen, Denmark, where she was visiting the agency’s global supply warehouse.

“There are still too few helicopters to reach more than 1,000 remote villages with life-saving supplies that children urgently need. Where we do have supplies on the ground, we have too few humanitarian partners to deliver them to those most in need.” With as many as 120,000 children in the mountains still without access to aid, of whom 10,000 could die of hunger, hypothermia and disease within the next few weeks, immediate steps must be taken to boost the number of those reached if a second wave of deaths is to be averted during the harsh winter months now arriving, UNICEF warned.

“Temperatures have dropped and weather conditions are getting worse,” Ms. Veneman said. “Access to affected areas has been badly affected as roads have become clogged with mud and people fleeing the mountains with their injured. Tens of thousands of children are at risk.”

Among urgently needed measures, UNICEF called for increasing the number, lift-capacity, and pilot pool of helicopters in the disaster zone and setting up large and well-resourced camps with clean water and adequate sanitation in lowland areas in the hope that people who can trek out of the mountains will receive adequate winter shelter.

At the same time, efforts must be made to reach remote villages through mule supply and foot columns for people who cannot or will not leave their homes. The number of national and international humanitarian partners on the ground needs to be increased to provide the support needed for a large humanitarian operation. Emergency medical and hospital capacity must be provided to replace destroyed health facilities until the end of the winter, UNICEF added.

Ms. Veneman warned that, under current circumstances, even if tents and blankets were to arrive at each remote village immediately children would still be at serious risk due to a lack of medical assistance, de-hydration because of bad water, and malnutrition.

“There is a significant threat of disease, with outbreaks of diarrhoea already,” she said. “Given the intermittent shut-downs of the air corridor because of bad weather, the consequences for sick and injured children could be grave.”

Stressing the need for more than 100,000 tents, UNHCR communications manager Vivan Tan noted that weather and logistical problems were seriously hampering the airlift to millions of homeless. “If something is not done in the shortest possible span of time, there is a danger of another tragedy to unfold,” he said.

“The logistics stand in the way. The relief operation has choked the airports in Pakistan and Dubai and whatever we want to bring in immediately is getting delayed,” he added.

From United Nations

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