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Tents, helicopters needed in Pakistan's remote north, says UNHCR

Tents, helicopters needed in Pakistan's remote north, says UNHCR

As UNHCR finalises plans for an airlift of more than 20 flights to bring in relief supplies from its stockpiles around the globe to Pakistan, UNHCR's top official in the country flew to Muzaffarabad today, where she saw the urgent need for more helicopters to rescue the wounded and bring in emergency supplies like tents and blankets as winter closes in.
13 October 2005
UNHCR staff in Islamabad offload tents bound for earthquake victims in disaster–affected areas of Pakistan. More refugee agency emergency shelter materials are planned to be airlifted into Pakistan starting Friday.

MUZAFARABAD, Pakistan, Oct 13 (UNHCR) - As UNHCR finalises plans for a huge airlift of relief supplies into Pakistan starting Friday, the UN refugee agency's top official in the country has stressed the need to rush aid to Pakistan's quake-hit areas after seeing first-hand the devastation in the north.

On Friday, a UNHCR team plans to travel to the Mansehra area to assess the situation of Afghan refugees, although access remains difficult.

Guenet Guebre Christos, UNHCR's Representative in Pakistan, today flew to Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir and one of the worst-hit areas in the earthquake, with a UN team.

"The destruction was horrendous," said Guebre Christos. "My heart really went out to the huge number of wounded people lying by the helipad, waiting for someone to take them to an appropriate hospital. We took three critically-injured children and their parents. They were in so much pain, I would've done anything to take the pain away."

While relief efforts are in full swing and new supplies are arriving every day, more must be done, she said.

"There's a desperate need for more helicopters to move the wounded to safety and bring in relief items because the roads are congested," said Guebre Christos. "We're also negotiating on behalf of the UN for access to ambulances donated by Korea."

UNHCR is planning a huge airlift of more than 20 flights to bring in emergency relief supplies from its stockpiles around the globe, supplementing supplies from the agency's warehouse in Peshawar, which are already being distributed.

The first airlift of relief supplies - plastic sheeting for shelter - from UNHCR's global warehouse in Copenhagen is scheduled for Friday arriving in Islamabad on Saturday.

UNHCR is also planning some 20 flights from Amman in Jordan, starting Sunday bringing in supplies of blankets, plastic sheeting and jerry cans, from its regional warehouse. A further two flights are scheduled early next week from Dubai carrying 4,000 badly needed tents from regional stockpiles.

From Afghanistan, a convoy of UNHCR and World Food Programme trucks is expected to leave Saturday bound for Peshawar, carrying supplies from the refugee agency's warehouse in Kabul including 1,500 tents, 20,000 blankets, 50,000 plastic sheets and 10,000 jerry cans.

Walking through the ruins of Muzaffarabad, Guebre Christos observed, "In the town areas, people are just sitting and sleeping on piles of rubble. We need to move them to safer areas. They need a roof over their heads, especially now that winter is closing in."

Getting the relief supplies, particularly tents and plastic sheeting, to earthquake victims is a top priority for UNHCR.

"Once they arrive, we'll airlift them out to the more remote affected areas," said Guebre Christos, adding that more UNHCR staff will be flying to Muzaffarabad to discuss relief efforts with the army colonel in charge.

On Friday, a UNHCR team is planning to travel by road to the Mansehra area of the North-West Frontier Province to assess the situation of some 45,000 Afghan refugees in four camps. Access to the region has been extremely difficult because of blocked roads. Initial reports of refugee casualties and damage to their homes have been low.

In a separate development, the UN refugee agency today secured the Pakistan government's authorisation to set up temporary camps for people displaced by the earthquake. UNHCR will work closely with the government and non-governmental partners to identify and prepare sites in the event of mass displacement.

The UN team that travelled to Muzaffarabad today also included the representatives of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Swiss Development Corporation (SDC).

By Vivian Tan in Islamabad, Pakistan