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UNHCR staff stunned by level of destruction in Kashmir, airlifts planned


UNHCR staff stunned by level of destruction in Kashmir, airlifts planned

As UNHCR awaits further news of earthquake damage from refugee camps in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province, the refugee agency's logistics staff are in the final stages of organising airlifts of relief supplies from its regional and global warehouses. UNHCR staff report the scale of the damage in Kashmir is 'dumbfounding.'
12 October 2005
UNHCR staff with an Aga Khan Foundation helicopter moving injured people from Muzafarabad in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, October 12 (UNHCR) - Two UNHCR staff today joined an Aga Khan Foundation-registered airlift to the Muzaffarabad area of Kashmir to rescue injured earthquake victims, deliver relief items and assess the extent of displacement.

Starting Friday, the UN refugee agency is planning airlifts with essential relief items such as blankets, plastic sheets, jerry cans, kitchen sets and tents from its stockpiles in Turkey, Jordan, Dubai and Copenhagen. Full flight details are not yet confirmed. In addition, from neighbouring Afghanistan, blankets, plastic sheets, tents and jerry cans are scheduled to be trucked to affected areas where the needs are enormous.

"The sheer scale of destruction was dumbfounding," said UNHCR Assistant Representative in Pakistan, Indrika Ratwatte. "There were 100 to 200 people waiting at the landing area in the village of Uri. This was the first time they'd seen any assistance, so naturally they ran for the food. And once that was gone, they rushed to move their injured onto the helicopter."

One villager, Mohammad Jamil, was carrying his daughter who was wounded on her head and arm. "No one has come until now," he said. "About 100 people have died in our village and many more are trapped."

Mohammad Jamil and his injured child (second from left) were among the vulnerable people airlifted from Uri village near Muzafarabad.

UNHCR's Ratwatte stressed, "We really need to reach out to inaccessible areas like this. And we must ensure a continued commitment to assist these people, to keep the aid coming in a sustainable way."

In North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), where UNHCR hosts more than 800,000 Afghan refugees in camps, at least 15 refugees have been reported dead and 34 seriously injured in the hard-hit Mansehra and Haripur districts. The refugee agency has sent two trucks of relief items like tents and plastic sheets, and two UNHCR workers are on their way to the area to assess the full extent of the damage, although access is difficult. Mansehra and Haripur districts together host some 150,000 refugees in seven camps.

UNHCR's health implementing partner, Church World Services (CWS), has mobilized its health teams to cater to medical emergencies for both refugee and local populations.

Some damage has been reported in the other refugee camps of NWFP.

UNHCR staff help offload urgently needed relief supplies bound for earthquake victims at Islamabad heliport on Wednesday.

While refugees remain the main focus of UNHCR's concern, the agency is integrated into the coordinated UN emergency response and with partners like Focus, Oxfam UK, World Vision and the American Refugee Committee are working closely with the government to set up temporary camps for people displaced by the earthquake. Such efforts are ongoing in the Mansehra area of NWFP.

Under the UN Flash Appeal, UNHCR needs US$22 million to coordinate the camp-management cluster in the event of mass displacement.

By Vivian Tan in Islamabad, Pakistan