It’s worse than tsunami: WHO: Race against time: UN official

Posted in Other | 14-Oct-05 | Author: Nasir Iqbal| Source: dawn.com (Pakistan)

The devastation of Pakistan Kashmiri city of Bagh.

ISLAMABAD, Oct 13: The earthquake which struck northern Pakistan and Azad Kashmir early this week was a bigger catastrophe than last year’s tsunami in terms of the number of people made homeless and the extent of destruction to infrastructure, a World Health Organisation official said here on Thursday.

Hussein A. Gezairy, the organization’s regional director, said the quake rendered 2.5 million people homeless as against 1.5 million displaced by the tsunami. Besides, another million people are in extreme grief, needing immediate help.

He said $10 billion had been mobilized by the United Nations and the world community for tsunami relief.

Talking to reporters at the Emergency Health Relief Operations Centre at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, Mr Gezairy said that although the quake had caused much more severe devastation than the tsunami and even hurricanes Katrina and Rita, he had doubts that the same amount of money would be raised for rehabilitation of earthquake victims.

No roads were destroyed by the tsunami and the destruction was confined to areas within a few hundred meters along the coasts and it took only a few days to assess the damage. Besides, there was the facility of transportation through the sea. But here the devastation is widespread, in mountainous and difficult-to-reach regions and only helicopters could reach the disaster areas.

However, Mr Gezairy said, he still hoped that the world community would come forward to support Pakistan in rebuilding its entire infrastructure and to provide humanitarian assistance like shelter, water and basic healthcare.

The WHO, working in collaboration with the Ministry of Health has fielded international experts and mobilized personnel already operating in the country to build an early warning systems network for disease surveillance and epidemic control in the affected areas.

AFP adds: Pakistan is in a ‘desperate situation’ with survivors cut off beyond major towns five days after the disaster, UN relief chief Jan Egeland told AFP in Muzaffarabad after seeing the devastation.

“This is a desperate situation. As you can see we are making progress in the more populated areas but it is so hard to reach the others,” Mr Egeland said after a helicopter tour of the disaster zone in Azad Kashmir.

“We’re still racing against the clock and we need to get more helicopters, more water, more tents and more money.”

He rejected complaints from destitute and injured survivors that the response by UN and Pakistani agencies was too slow, saying relief workers were doing their best under extremely difficult circumstances.

“It is not slow. The first three or four days there weren’t even (open) roads here,” Mr Egeland said. “In the pipeline we have 10,000 tents and 100,000 blankets but it takes time to go to these areas.”

The Norwegian became the face of relief efforts after December’s tsunami disaster when he derided wealthy nations as “stingy” in their response.

Asked if the South Asian earthquake was a unique disaster, he said: “It has never been worse. The devastation is beyond belief.”

“There is this combination of an earthquake in one of the most rugged areas of the world - not only have thousands of homes and schools been entirely destroyed but also poor communication, and transport is gone when it is needed the most.

“It is so incredibly difficult to restore it because the trails and narrow mountain roads have been destroyed in hundreds of places, which means people are stuck without food, without roofs and with badly wounded people among them.”

Mr Egeland, the UN’s Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, arrived on Thursday having cancelled a trip to tsunami-hit Indonesia as the scale of this earthquake calamity became clear.

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