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Regular check-ups safeguard conditions in Pakistan's quake camps

News Stories, 7 February 2006

© UNHCR/M Cierna
UNHCR staff in northern Pakistan found that nine-year-old Zaheda, in the wheelchair, had to be moved to a field hospital to have her broken legs reset.

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan, 7 Feb (UNHCR) Four months after it struck, nine-year-old Zaheda still carries the wounds inflicted by the earthquake which devastated large areas of northern Pakistan.

The physical damage is unmistakable. Zaheda has been confined to a wheelchair since both her legs were broken when her school in the hills of Pakistan-administered Kashmir collapsed. But her dark eyes also reveal less visible injuries; ones which may take longer to heal.

"Every day I recall the dreadful morning of the quake," she says as she clutches the hand of her younger sister. "I still hear the sounds of the school crashing on top of us, and I am so frightened it will happen again."

Zaheda, the oldest of five children, now lives with her family in the Al-Sufah camp near the city of Muzaffarabad. As lead agency for camp management, UNHCR is currently providing material and technical assistance to the Pakistan authorities and non-governmental organizations in 26 planned camps and 118 spontaneous camps hosting some 140,000 people in the earthquake-affected areas.

Spontaneous or unplanned camps such as Al-Sufah are frequently more crowded and less hygienic than camps set up by UNHCR and its partners. But residents are often unwilling to relocate.

Zaheda is among several patients being examined by a doctor brought to the camp by the UN refugee agency to assess residents' medical needs. The news for her is not good. The doctor, from a Turkish charitable organization, says Zaheda's broken bones have not healed properly and will have to be re-set.

Catherine Harding, UNHCR's Community Services Officer in Muzaffarabad, arranges for Zaheda to be taken to a nearby field hospital run by Cuban volunteers.

A middle-aged man then approaches the UNHCR team and in hushed tones, so as not be overheard by his neighbours, asks them to visit his father. During the quake, the 72-year-old man was struck in the back by a large boulder. Recently he has become incontinent. Embarrassed by the nature of the condition, his family has kept him hidden in their tent.

"We need to get your father out of the camp," Harding tells the younger man. "He'll be taken to the hospital together with Zaheda where he can be treated."

During the visit it's agreed with Al-Sufah's manager that several other vulnerable cases, among them an anaemic breast-feeding mother, will be relocated to camp nearby where conditions are more sanitary.

"We need to make sure we have contact with everyone," says Harding. "As we've seen, people with certain medical conditions may not want to talk about them. Others may not want to complain. With regular monitoring we can address issues before they become a problem."

As efforts to safeguard the well being of camp residents continue, planning has begun for the next stage of the operation when families begin to return to their homes.

"The government of Pakistan has said camps should begin to close from the end of March," says Morgan Morris, UNHCR's Muzaffarabad coordinator. "So we are looking at ways to help people to restart their lives in their villages. The first step will be to provide them with information on conditions back home and on what further assistance they might be able to receive from the government or relief organizations."

By Maria Cierna in Muzaffarabad, Northern Pakistan

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UNHCR country pages

Pakistan Earthquake: A Race Against the Weather

With winter fast approaching and well over a million people reported homeless in quake-stricken Pakistan, UNHCR and its partners are speeding up the delivery and distribution of hundreds of tonnes of tents, blankets and other relief supplies from around the world.

In all, the NATO-UNHCR airlift, which began on 19 October, will deliver a total of 860 tonnes of supplies from our stockpiles in Iskenderun, Turkey. Separately, by 25 October, UNHCR-chartered aircraft had so far delivered 14 planeloads of supplies to Pakistan from the agency's stocks in Copenhagen, Dubai and Jordan.

On the ground, UNHCR is continuing to distribute aid supplies in the affected areas to help meet some of the massive needs of an estimated 3 million people.

Pakistan Earthquake: A Race Against the Weather

Pakistan Earthquake: The Initial Response

The UN refugee agency is providing hundreds of tonnes of urgently needed relief supplies for victims in northern Pakistan. UNHCR is sending family tents, hospital tents, plastic sheeting, mattresses, kitchen sets, blankets and other items from its global stockpiles. Within a few days of the earthquake, just as its substantial local stocks were all but exhausted, UNHCR began a series of major airlifts from its warehouses around the world, including those in Denmark, Dubai, Jordan and Turkey.

UNHCR does not normally respond to natural disasters, but it quickly joined the UN humanitarian effort because of the sheer scale of the destruction, because the quake affected thousands of Afghan refugees, and because the agency has been operational in Pakistan for more than two decades. North West Frontier Province (NWFP), one of the regions most severely affected by the quake, hosts 887,000 Afghan refugees in camps.

While refugees remain the main focus of UNHCR's concern, the agency is integrated into the coordinated UN emergency response to help quake victims.

Pakistan Earthquake: The Initial Response

Pakistan Earthquake: Major push to Bring in Aid before Winter

With the snow line dropping daily, the race to get relief supplies into remote mountain areas of Pakistani-administered Kashmir intensifies. In a major push to bring aid to the people in the Leepa Valley, heavy-lift Chinook helicopters from the British Royal Air force airlifted in 240 tonnes of UNHCR emergency supplies, including tents, plastic sheeting, stoves, and kitchen sets.

At lower elevations, UNHCR and its partners have dispatched emergency teams to camps to train members of the Pakistani military in site planning, camp management, winterization and the importance of water and sanitation – all crucial to containing disease during the long winter ahead.

By mid-November, UNHCR had provided a total of 19,356 tents, 152,325 blankets, 71,395 plastic sheets and tens of thousands of jerry cans, kitchen sets and other supplies. More of the agency's supplies are continuing to arrive in Pakistan on various airlifts, including a 103-flight joint NATO/UNHCR airlift from Turkey. Other UNHCR airlifts have brought in supplies from the agency's warehouses in Jordan, Dubai and Denmark.

Pakistan Earthquake: Major push to Bring in Aid before Winter

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