NATO joins forces with UNHCR to airlift urgently-needed tents to Pakistan
GENEVA, October 18 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency announced on Tuesday it had joined forces with NATO and the government of Turkey to airlift hundreds of tonnes of supplies, including nearly 10,000 desperately needed tents, from Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey to the earthquake zone in northern Pakistan.
Although UNHCR worked closely with non-combatant NATO forces in Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia during the Kosovo crisis, this is the first time the UN refugee agency and NATO have mounted a joint airlift of this size.
"In all, we have about 860 tonnes of supplies in our warehouse in Iskenderun, Turkey, that we're going to rush to Pakistan with the generous help of these two partners," UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told a press briefing in Geneva.
"This part of the airlift will deliver nearly 10,000 family tents - enough for 100,000 people - 103,675 blankets and 2,000 stoves from our stocks in Turkey."
The exact number of flights that will be necessary will depend on the type of planes made available by individual NATO countries, but dozens of flights are expected. So far, a total of 11 C-130 planes have been offered by the UK, Italy, France, Turkey and Greece. It is hoped that some much bigger C-17 transport planes will also become available, since this would reduce the number of flights necessary and speed up the delivery.
The Turkish government has offered a fleet of 40 trucks to ferry the supplies from the UNHCR warehouse to the air base at Incirlik, where they will be loaded onto NATO cargo planes and flown to Pakistan. The first seven-truck convoy reached Incirlik on Tuesday afternoon carrying almost all the stoves and some 45,000 blankets, with two more trucks due to arrive later in the day.
By early evening the first NATO plane, a French C-130, was being loaded up. It was expected to take off for Pakistan late Tuesday or early Wednesday.
"The governor of Adana, where Incirlik is located, is assisting with the provision of military troops and equipment to help shift the supplies," Redmond added.
In addition to the UNHCR/NATO airlift from Turkey, hundreds of tonnes of UNHCR relief supplies, including thousands of urgently needed tents, are being rushed to Pakistan earthquake victims from UNHCR stockpiles elsewhere in the world. However, flights are frequently delayed because of congestion at airports in northern Pakistan and by the bad weather which has been seriously hampering the relief effort. Dubai Airport has also experienced congestion.
Nevertheless, by early Tuesday afternoon, a total of six UNHCR cargo flights had arrived in Islamabad from Denmark, Dubai and Jordan, with a further two expected before the end of the day. On Monday, a UNHCR-chartered cargo jet from Jordan brought in 1,836 kitchen sets, 875 plastic sheets and 9,300 blankets. A second plane arrived from Jordan on Tuesday morning with a further 18,800 blankets and 1,000 plastic sheets. Also on Tuesday, three UNHCR-chartered planes (two Boeing 747s and an Airbus 310) arrived from Dubai carrying a total of around 4,000 family tents. Over the weekend, UNHCR also flew in 357 huge rolls of plastic sheeting from its stockpiles in Copenhagen.
In addition to the multi-faceted airlift, Redmond said a joint UNHCR-WFP convoy of 47 trucks, carrying 1,500 ten-person tents, 50,000 plastic sheets, 20,000 blankets and 10,000 jerry cans from UNHCR warehouses in Afghanistan, reached the Pakistani city of Peshawar late on Monday.
"In all," Redmond informed reporters, "we are shipping as quickly as possible more than 15,000 tents, 220,000 blankets, 68,794 plastic sheets, 500 plastic rolls, 31,840 kitchen sets, 2,000 stoves and 5,000 lanterns from our stocks in several countries."
"We need more tents than exist," Andrew Macleod, operations manager of the UN Emergency Response Team, told reporters in Islamabad on Monday, stressing the importance of winterized tents to help hundreds of thousands of homeless people through the cold weather ahead. Already temperatures around 0°C have been reported in some of the Himalayan villages flattened by the earthquake.
UNHCR said it had also established a tent base in Mansehra, in North-West Frontier Province, for temporary storage of non-food items. Some of the relief efforts are being coordinated from there. Last week, UNHCR started distributing tents to the affected population around Mansehra from its existing stocks in Pakistan. But by the time the first planes and the Kabul convoy arrived, the stocks held in the UN refugee agency's Pakistani warehouses were already virtually exhausted.
UNHCR said six emergency staff had already been deployed to boost its existing substantial operation in Pakistan, with two more emergency team members due to arrive by the weekend.
"We're ... continuing to reinforce our team in Pakistan, sending logistics, site planning and camp coordination specialists," Redmond said. "More experts will be flown in over the coming days. The government has informed UNHCR that it's setting up camp sites in three locations - Balakot for 5,000 families; Ghari Habib Ullah (between Muzaffarabad and Balakot) for 3,000 families; and Batagram for 5,000 families. UNHCR has been asked to help set up the camps."
He said UNHCR had already given the Pakistan army 5,000 plastic sheets, some of which were airdropped to quake victims in the inaccessible Kaghan Valley.
UNHCR has appealed for $22 million to fund its activities in the earthquake affected areas. So far, Sweden has pledged US$ 2.57 million, Japan has announced a US$1 million contribution, and Italy has said it will give 250,000.