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UNHCR closes offices and phases out of Pakistan's earthquake zone

News Stories, 31 August 2006

© UNHCR/B.Baloch
Pakistan's quake survivors who cannot go home for the moment will continue to be assisted in camps now managed by the local authorities.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, August 31 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Thursday closed its offices in Pakistan's earthquake-affected areas and handed over full responsibility for the management of relief camps to the local authorities.

UNHCR will continue to advise the authorities until the end of the year through the UN resident coordinator's office and the Norwegian Refugee Council. The offices closed on Thursday were located in Mansehra in North-West Frontier Province and in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

"This was part of an overall framework for the transition of camp management responsibilities to the authorities, in line with the ERRA (Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority)/UN Early Recovery Plan that was adopted earlier this year," said Kilian Kleinschmidt, UNHCR's senior emergency coordinator.

"From the outset, we had made it clear that our involvement would be until the end of the winter and that we would phase out as of September 1, 2006 in a responsible, transparent and professional manner," he added.

UNHCR does not normally get involved in natural disasters. But, partly because of their huge scale, the agency quickly started helping survivors of the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004 and last year's earthquake in the mountainous Kashmir region, which left more than 70,000 people dead and tens of thousands homeless.

Immediately after the October 8 earthquake, UNHCR tapped emergency relief stockpiles in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Denmark, Dubai, India, Iran, Jordan and Turkey and distributed thousands of tonnes of supplies to quake survivors. To date, the agency has handed out more than 21,000 tents, 115,000 plastic sheets, close to 850,000 blankets, 38,000 mattresses and some 25,000 stoves/heaters.

At the height of the emergency operation, UNHCR had some 150 staff in Pakistan. The donor community contributed almost US$35 million to this effort.

As the UN's lead agency for camp management in the relief effort, UNHCR supported the government in the running of some 170 temporary relief camps in North-West Frontier Province and Kashmir. UNHCR provided material and technical support to the authorities and coordinated with different UN agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to ensure basic services in the camps.

"You can measure the success of our activities by what was averted: there were no epidemics in the camps, few casualties over the course of winter," Kleinschmidt said.

Since March, more than 140,000 quake survivors have left the camps for home and over 130 camps are now closed. About 36,000 people remain in 44 camps. In the months leading up to the handover, UNHCR upgraded and maintained services in the remaining camps and identified partners in the UN and NGO community to make sure basic services would continue.

As part of its phase-out, UNHCR has developed a fundable capacity-building project for local administration in Kashmir and North-West Frontier Province that would assist officials to manage and monitor relief camp operations, returns, reintegration and population movements. "UNHCR will contribute financially to this structure until the end of 2006. Donors, NGOs and other UN agencies have joined us in this effort," Kleinschmidt said.




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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