NATO-UNHCR airlift to quake-hit Pakistan extended, as winter threatens
GENEVA, November 3 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency said on Thursday that its joint airlift with NATO of emergency relief supplies to earthquake-hit Pakistan will be extended and expanded in a major effort to get life-saving tents, blankets and stoves to survivors before winter strikes.
UNHCR said the massive airlift, which has been operating out of the Turkish Incirlik airbase over the past two weeks, has already consisted of more than 51 sorties by cargo planes from NATO nations Greece, France, Italy, Denmark, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States. As of Thursday, more than 90 percent of the original 860 tonnes of relief materials from UNHCR's stocks in Turkey had been delivered to Pakistan.
NATO and UNHCR have now agreed to fly additional plane-loads of supplies from Denmark and Jordan, as well as from Turkey, the UN refugee agency said in a statement issued by its headquarters in Geneva.
"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 UN 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 said it is now urgently diverting relief items that were originally destined for other operations around the world to Islamabad.
The second phase of the airlift will deliver an additional 320,580 blankets, 15,000 plastic sheets, 995 tents, 30,996 mattresses, 1,840 kitchen sets and 6,700 jerry cans from UNHCR's warehouses in Denmark, Jordan and Turkey. Flights from Jordan and Copenhagen are planned for next week.
In total, UNHCR is delivering over half a million blankets to Pakistan, and more than 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 begin almost immediately. The Turkish government has said it will continue its generous support to this unprecedented humanitarian operation by helping with the transport of the relief items from UNHCR's Iskenderun warehouse to Incirlik airbase on truck convoys. 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 operated a 14-flight airlift of supplies from its stockpiles in Denmark, Dubai and Jordan, and has also sent convoys of supplies overland from its warehouses in Afghanistan and Iran.
Meanwhile on the ground in Pakistan, UNHCR's five 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. So far, more than 8,500 tents have been distributed.