UNHCR/NATO airlift picks up pace as more distributions take place in Pakistan
GENEVA, October 21 (UNHCR) - As a massive NATO/UNHCR airlift for earthquake victims in Pakistan entered its third day, more than 60 tonnes of UNHCR tents, blankets and other relief items had already been transported from NATO's airbase in Turkey to Islamabad, the UN refugee agency said on Friday, adding that more emergency distributions had taken place within the earthquake zone itself.
As of Thursday evening, seven sorties had been flown by NATO cargo planes carrying urgently needed supplies from UNHCR's emergency stockpiles in Iskenderun, a port city in southern Turkey. Another five flights by Turkish, Greek, British and French aircraft were scheduled to leave the Incirlik airbase on Friday.
With help from the Turkish government, the joint NATO/UNHCR airlift is rushing a total of 860 tonnes of UNHCR emergency materials over the next few days, using military aircraft from several different NATO member states.
Separate from the joint airlift with NATO, UNHCR said it had already sent another 10 planeloads of supplies to Pakistan from its stockpiles in Copenhagen, Dubai and Jordan. The UNHCR airlift from Jordan is continuing, a further three flights expected during the course of Friday, in addition to the five that had already flown from Amman to Islamabad earlier in the week.
By the end of next week, UNHCR said it expects expect to have delivered from its emergency stockpiles around the world more than 15,000 family tents, 220,000 blankets, 68,794 plastic sheets, 500 plastic rolls, 31,840 kitchen sets, 2,000 stoves and 5,000 lanterns.
That is in addition to the 4,700 family tents, 21 hospital tents and tonnes of other relief items already distributed from UNHCR warehouses within Pakistan in the days immediately after the earthquake. In all, UNHCR said it had already supplied, or was in the process of airlifting, some 20,000 tents.
On the ground, UNHCR is continuing to distribute aid supplies in the affected areas to help meet some of the massive needs of an estimated 3 million people. Also on Friday, a UNHCR convoy delivered 800 family tents, 1,600 plastic sheets, 2,400 blankets and 800 jerry cans from the agency's Peshawar warehouse to Muzaffarabad, the devastated town situated close to the epicentre of the earthquake.
UNHCR emergency teams - including experts in camp planning - have been deployed to five key locations in the north of Pakistan (Mansehra, Balakot, Batagram, Bagh and Muzaffarabad) to help with aid distribution and the establishment of temporary camps. The Pakistan government has asked UNHCR to help set up temporary camps for the displaced. Two camps near Balakot - Bassian and Ghari Habibullah - have so far been established for families coming down from their villages in the nearby mountains. More than 850 UNHCR family tents were distributed to the Pakistan army and have been erected in the two camps.
"More are on the way," UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis told a press briefing in Geneva. "Many earthquake victims are coming down from their mountain villages to collect relief items to take back home. It's likely many more people will come down from their villages as winter sets in, and many will remain in the valleys. So establishment of temporary camps is urgent."
The government plans to house 5,000 families in Bassian camp and 3,000 families in Ghari Habibullah. A third camp, in Batagram, for 5,000 families has also been planned. And another three camp sites have been confirmed in Muzaffarabad.
On Wednesday, five hundred UNHCR tents were airlifted by the American Refugee Committee to remote villages near Bagh, 1,900 metres above sea level, which until then had not received any assistance, Pagonis said.
UNHCR is working with other NGOs like International Medical Corps and Social Sustainable Development to ensure water, sanitation and basic health care in the camps, she added.
A senior team from UNHCR's Geneva headquarters arrived Friday in Islamabad on a five-day mission to review the agency's emergency response to date. UNHCR has 11 offices in Pakistan.
UNHCR said that, like other aid partners, it is in urgent need of funds for this operation.
"We need US$ 22 million and have so far received only US$ 4 million," Pagonis said, adding that the agency had already spent US$ 6 million.
"It is essential that UNHCR maintains a certain level of preparedness for unforeseen emergencies," she said, "and we urgently need funds to replenish those supplies that have been rushed to Pakistan from our stockpiles worldwide. As this crisis demonstrates, tents are absolutely crucial in emergency response and our stocks are now getting very low."
Pakistan companies have traditionally been one of UNHCR's main suppliers of tents, but local production is now geared exclusively to the earthquake victims. UNHCR said it needs to find additional suppliers elsewhere in the world to produce or provide more tents. The agency's procurement staff are contacting possible suppliers in China, Pagonis said.