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NATO-UNHCR airlift extended as aid is rushed to Pakistan before the winter

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NATO-UNHCR airlift extended as aid is rushed to Pakistan before the winter

3 November 2005

Thursday, 3 November 2005

GENEVA - The UN refugee agency and NATO have agreed to extend and expand their two-week-old airlift of emergency relief supplies to earthquake-struck Pakistan, in a major effort to get life-saving tents, blankets and stoves to survivors before winter strikes.

Already, in a massive operation with more than 51 sorties by cargo planes from NATO nations Turkey, Greece, France, Italy, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and the United States, the joint airlift has flown more than 90 per cent of the original 860 tonnes of UNHCR relief materials from Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey to Pakistan. Now, NATO will assist with additional flights of supplies from Denmark and Jordan as well as Turkey.

"NATO's contribution has been absolutely critical in getting our emergency relief supplies down to Pakistan as quickly as possible and out to the homeless survivors who are suffering immense hardship and facing a brutal winter," said the UN refugee agency's High Commissioner António Guterres. "NATO's continued help means further shelter materials we have identified in our regional warehouses will get to those who need them most," he added.

With critical needs in Pakistan still unmet and winter snows just weeks away, UNHCR is now urgently diverting relief items, originally destined for other operations around the world, to Islamabad.

The second phase of the airlift will deliver to Pakistan an additional 320,580 blankets, 15,000 plastic sheets, 995 tents, 30,996 mattresses, 1,840 kitchen sets and 6,700 jerry cans from the UN refugee agency's warehouses in Denmark, Jordan and Turkey. Flights from Jordan and Copenhagen are planned for later next week.

In total, UNHCR is delivering more than half a million blankets to Pakistan, and over 20,000 tents.

The first phase of the 860-tonne airlift from Incirlik is expected to be completed over the coming weekend, with the second phase scheduled to continue almost immediately. The Turkish government has said it will continue its generous support to this unprecedented humanitarian operation by helping with transporting the relief items by truck from UNHCR's Iskenderun warehouse to Incirlik airbase. Loading at Iskenderun for the second phase is scheduled to start on Monday.

"UNHCR is extremely grateful to the NATO countries for their generous in-kind contributions," said High Commissioner Guterres. "With limited funding from donors, this support is absolutely crucial for us. Without it, we simply would not have had enough funds to get these vital supplies to Pakistan."

UNHCR has appealed for $30 million for its South Asia earthquake operation, but has only received $5.7 million, and has had to borrow funds from the agency's operational reserve.

Since the 8 October earthquake, UNHCR has delivered over 2,000 tonnes of emergency relief supplies to Pakistan. In addition to the NATO airbridge, the refugee agency had a 14- flight airlift of supplies from its stockpiles in Denmark, Dubai and Jordan, and sent convoys of supplies from its warehouses in Afghanistan and Iran. Aid delivered includes 232,000 blankets, 20,000 tents, 83,800 plastic sheets, 33,000 jerry cans amongst other items.

Meanwhile in Pakistan, five UNHCR emergency teams in Muzaffarabad, Balakot, Bagh, Mansehra and Batagram are working closely with local and international NGO partners and the army to get all relief items transported and distributed to the most needy in camps, settlements and in the upper valleys. So far, more than 8,500 tents have been distributed.