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Tents bring relief to the homeless in Pakistan's north


Tents bring relief to the homeless in Pakistan's north

UNHCR is rushing supplies to quake-hit areas like Balakot, Batagram and Muzaffarabad as camps spring up for people who lost their homes in the disaster. Four camps are up and running in joint efforts by UNHCR, the military and NGOs. Many more spontaneous camps will also need assistance.
24 October 2005
Ali Zaman and his family of eight arriving at Ghari Habibullah camp from their village near Muzaffarabad.

BALAKOT, Pakistan, October 24 (UNHCR) - Plunging temperatures and sheer desperation are driving earthquake survivors out of their devastated mountain villages into a rising number of camps in northern Pakistan, where UNHCR is rushing supplies to people who have lost their homes.

Over the weekend, the UN refugee agency sent 1,500 tents, 4,500 blankets, 2,200 plastic sheets, 3,000 jerry cans and 700 kitchen sets from its stocks in Peshawar to affected areas in Balakot, Batagram and Muzaffarabad - areas which were levelled in the October 8 earthquake.

Part of the supplies are to supplement relief items in Balakot and Batagram, where UNHCR has set up four temporary camps with the military to house people displaced by the earthquake. Bassian camp in Balakot now hosts more than 1,600 people in 300 tents. Nearby, Ghari Habibullah camp has 340 tents with some 1,400 people. Shamlai camp in Batagram is home to 100 families in 150 tents while Subjail camp hosts 17 families in 30 tents.

"Newcomers are arriving every day. Some of them are from the local areas but many of them have come from as far as Muzaffarabad after hearing about aid in Balakot," said Blasé Kojcevsky, a camp manager in UNHCR's emergency team in Balakot. UNHCR has been given responsibility for camp management as part of the joint-UN relief effort in Pakistan, and is aiming to set up a secure camp environment for around 500,000 of those made homeless by the earthquake.

Among the new arrivals were Ali Zaman and his family of eight who had come from Hassan Gallian village near Muzaffarabad. "The earthquake completely destroyed all our houses in the village. Almost every house lost three to four people," he said. "After waiting for people to reach us, we just thought to walk and join others in tents in Ghari Habibullah."

After registering with the camp authorities, Zaman and his family dropped their luggage near the two tents allocated to them, and were given plastic sheets to use as floor mats. They also received rations like rice, wheat flour, pulses, oil, milk, candles and soap.

"It's really a relief to see these pitched tents," said Zaman. "At last my family has some shelter as we are coming from a situation where all houses are destroyed and everyone was under the open sky."

But camp management is not just about finding a flat piece of ground and putting up tents, Kojcevsky explained. He said UNHCR is working with the Pakistan military to ensure that the tents are erected with adequate space between them, and that there are designated areas for latrines, schools and play areas for children. The camps will be fenced and security lighting installed to ensure that vulnerable women and children are protected, he added.

Basic health care, water and sanitation facilities are also essential. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) like International Medical Corps, Save the Children, Norwegian Church Aid, the UNICEF-funded Taraque Foundation and Society for Sustainable Development are in the camps to offer these services. World Vision will provide services in child protection, education and recreational activities in Bassian camp.

In addition to establishing temporary camps, UNHCR and the military are going out to find places where people have set up makeshift shelters by themselves. Such spontaneous camps often need material assistance and better organisation to ensure that health or hygiene problems do not surface.

In Muzaffarabad, the UN refugee agency has almost finished distributing the 800 tents that arrived on Saturday. It has given 120 tents to a spontaneous camp which has been receiving support from a local fibre-optics company, and several hundred to NGOs like Al Mustafa Trust and Al Khidmat for further distribution. Another 1,000 tents are on their way to meet increasing demands.

Those people, like Zaman, who have found relief in temporary camps, are very conscious of the calamity still facing their neighbours trapped in the mountains. "The situation up in the mountain villages is very desperate, that's why people are moving to relief camps," said Zaman at Ghari Habibullah camp. "But there are still people up there, so help also needs to reach them."

To keep up the pace of aid distribution, UNHCR is bringing in tonnes of relief supplies from its warehouses in Turkey, Amman, Dubai, Denmark and Afghanistan. In all, more than 15,000 UNHCR family tents, 220,000 blankets, some 70,000 plastic sheets, 15,000 kitchen sets, 31,000 jerry cans, 2,000 stoves and 5,000 lanterns are being rushed to Pakistan for the relief effort. The agency already had an additional 4,700 tents in Pakistan when the earthquake struck.

By midday Monday, NATO C-130 transport planes taking off from Incirlik in Turkey had flown a total of 19 sorties, carrying almost 200 tonnes of relief items from the UNHCR stockpile in the country. Later in the day, a Danish aircraft was set to join the Turkish, Italian, Greek, French and British planes which have already flown to Pakistan.

At the current average rate, it would take a total of around 60 flights to move all 860 tonnes of UNHCR tents, blankets and stoves in Turkey. However, NATO officials said two Boeing 747s chartered by the U.S. government are expected to arrive at Incirlik on Wednesday and Thursday. These can carry around 7 times as much as a C-130 - and will dramatically accelerate the airlift's output.

The airlift was not affected by another earthquake which struck Turkey itself on Friday - the third this year to strike different parts of the country.

Meanwhile the UNHCR airlift from Jordan had sent a total of nine flights (using a chartered Boeing 707, Airbus A310 and a DC-8) by midday Monday. The agency has also sent several planeloads of tents and other non-food items from Dubai and Copenhagen.

By Babar Baloch in Balakot, Pakistan
and Tim Irwin in Muzaffarabad