Major UNHCR airlift underway to help Pakistan's earthquake victims
MANSEHRA, Pakistan, Oct 14 (UNHCR) - As the UN refugee agency's major international airlift got underway to rush emergency supplies to Pakistan's earthquake survivors, UNHCR today sent a team north to assess the needs of Pakistani survivors and affected Afghan refugees in the area's camps.
On Friday, UNHCR started flying out tonnes of emergency relief supplies to Pakistan to help the victims of the devastating earthquake that has killed at least 25,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless and destitute.
The first flight carrying 357 bales of plastic sheeting for emergency shelter from UNHCR's warehouse in Copenhagen left Frankfurt, Germany on a commercial flight scheduled to arrive in Islamabad in the early hours of Saturday morning.
The airlift is set to intensify over the next few days, with planes flying out of Dubai, Jordan and Turkey, carrying such essential relief items as tents, blankets, plastic sheeting, jerry cans and stoves from our global and regional stockpiles. Two flights are scheduled out of Dubai over the weekend, carrying a total of 4,000 tents between them. Ten flights are scheduled from Amman, starting on Sunday, while some 54 flights are expected to be needed to bring supplies out of Turkey.
The UN refugee agency is not normally involved in natural disaster relief, but as the earthquake has impacted areas with large numbers of Afghan refugees it has offered its operational expertise.
"Given the huge scope of this disaster and given the fact that it has also affected Afghan refugees, we are part of the UN joint relief effort," UNHCR's Chief Spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva on Friday.
In total, UNHCR will be sending more than 15,000 tents with a capacity of ten people each, 220,000 blankets, 69,000 plastic sheets and 500 plastic sheeting shelter rolls, as well as thousands of jerry cans, kitchen sets, stoves and lanterns - all essentials for daily life and crucial in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster.
While the airlift is underway, a convoy of UNHCR and World Food Programme trucks is also expected to leave Kabul in Afghanistan over the weekend, bound for Peshawar in northern Pakistan, loaded with 1,500 tents, 20,000 blankets, 50,000 plastic sheets and 10,000 jerry cans from our Kabul warehouse in the Afghan capital. Once the goods arrive - by truck or air - including the 4,000 tents from Dubai - they will be airlifted to more remote affected areas.
Also on Friday, a four-person UNHCR team travelled to the Mansehra and Balakot districts that were hit by the earthquake last Saturday. They met refugee leaders in Barary camp, where 55 houses were damaged but no casualties were reported. Some of the refugees have been fixing their damaged homes, making mud bricks for reconstruction. Some 45,000 Afghan refugees live in four camps in the affected refugee-hosting area. Initial reports of casualties and damage have been low in comparison to the surrounding area.
"The relief aid will benefit both the refugees and local population, depending on their needs," said UNHCR Representative Guenet Guebre Christos. Throughout her day-long visit, military officials in every district told her their greatest needs were helicopters, tents and blankets.
The team from UNHCR, which has been tasked with camp management for displaced people with particular need of assistance, toured Mansehra and Balakot to get a sense of how wide the displacement was. Makeshift shelters lined the roadsides in some areas, housing people who had lost their homes, including 30 families from Boli village living beside a river in the Kaghan valley.
"We will go home in about a month, after we clear the bodies and can start rebuilding," said one man. "We hope to return to the village once the landslides stabilize," said another.
"Generally, the displaced people said their tents were only temporary, that they would go home once the situation improves," said Guebre Christos. "Naturally, no one wants to live in a camp, they would rather be somewhere they're more familiar with. Camps are a last resort for extremely vulnerable people."
However, she noted that some of the tent-dwellers were living in poor conditions: "They're washing and cooking with the river water, this could have a negative impact on people living downstream. We need to identify these spontaneous settlements with our NGO partners so that we can organize them and provide them with at least the bare essentials, like water, sanitation, security."
By Vivian Tan in Mansehra, Pakistan