Relief work under control: UN official

Published December 19, 2005

MUZAFFARABAD, Dec 18: United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Pakistan Jan Vandermoortele on Sunday expressed satisfaction over preparations for winter in the areas affected by the October earthquake but called upon donors for more aid. “I have been here now for the past nine weeks since it (earthquake) happened and it is undeniable that major progress has been achieved,” he told reporters, as he flew into the AJK capital accompanying UN Foundation chairman Ted Turner and Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s special adviser Dr Nafis Sadiq. “I will say the glass is half full, glass is not half empty. But we still have a lot of work to do and winter will be the test,” he said.

“We have people above the snowline for whom shelter is the priority and for those living below the snowline outside the camps the priority is mostly thermal protection, blankets and plastic sheets for the tents. And then we have people living in the camps where priority is mostly camp management in general and sanitation in particular,” he said.

He said management of spontaneous camps was still a major job.

He said diseases posed a major concern because the camps had high concentration of people without adequate sanitation facilities.

He, however, pointed out that so far there had not been any major outbreak of disease, except for a few cases of diarrhoea and measles, which were immediately contained.

“Mortality and morbidity increases in this area in winter. Children and elderly get pneumonia in this season. But we have checked last year’s mortality figures from Muzaffarabad and there is no big difference,” he said.

“We have to keep the people warm and dry in the tents which are not winterized,” he said, adding that efforts were being made to make the tents winterized with tarpaulins on the floors and plastic sheeting.

“We have to make sure that the camps are properly organized with tranquil and peaceful atmosphere because frustrations can easily boil up into a bit of unrest and fighting. This is what happens if you are not prepared, not well fed and if you are wet,” he said.

Asked about the fears in view of looming rains and snow, Mr Vandermoortele said: “We are preparing for the worst because it will, it could be ugly.”

“So far, we are very lucky. A day like today is a blessing, because helicopters are flying, trucks are rolling, people are being helped, but we need to be ready for the winter and gear up efforts,” he said.

“We also need to be ready for inadequacies and gaps in the relief effort. I think we are ready for that. It will not be pleasant, but we have people in place there, material in place to move and fix the problem,” he said.

Asked if he was satisfied with the outpouring of funds, Mr Vandermoortele said initially the funding was slow causing ‘a bit of disappointment’ but it improved in the last month.

“But we have to keep the pressure on to keep receiving the money. We need all the blankets and all the tarpaulins and for that we need more money,” he said.

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