Earthquake aid window slamming shut, WFP warns

Published on 27 October 2005

In the wake of yesterday’s meeting of major donors to discuss funding for the victims of this month’s south Asia earthquake, WFP has expressed alarm that too little money is being committed directly to its emergency relief efforts, saying that a window of hope for survivors was being slammed shut.

“The next three weeks are crucial. Hundreds of villages that are remote today will become impossible to reach in a few weeks. People have lost their homes and their winter food stocks have been largely destroyed.

"It’s quite simple: if we can’t get to them before winter, they are going to die,” said Amir Abdulla, WFP Regional Director for the Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

50,000 at risk

“More than 50,000 died of injuries from the quake – a further 50,000 could now die of exposure.

“Without new donations, we can’t procure food or fly the helicopters. Right now our appeal for emergency food aid is only 16 percent funded; our appeal for air support is less than 10 percent funded. We have to quadruple these amounts in the next few days – or face disaster.”

Donor meeting

People have lost their homes and their winter food stocks have been largely destroyed. If we can’t get to them before winter, they are going to die

Amir Abdulla, WFP's Regional Director for the Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe

A meeting of 65 international donor countries in Geneva on Tuesday raised fresh pledges of US$580 million to support relief and reconstruction in northern Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir, but little of this was earmarked for the UN’s US$550 million appeal for emergency assistance – shelter, medical assistance and food – for the survivors.

“Reconstruction will be important, but it’s still a long way down the road. Right now our focus must be on saving lives,” Abdulla said. “And that means immediate support to the UN and other aid organisations on the ground.”

Food aid and logistical support

WFP’s component – food aid and logistical support - makes up one-third of the UN appeal. The agency has tripled its appeal for air support to US$100 million.

WFP has so far provided food rations to more than 500,000 survivors of the 8 October quake. It is also providing helicopters to transport tents, blankets and medical supplies on behalf of other aid agencies and to bring seriously injured people off the mountains.

But with hundreds of thousands of people still cut off by landslides and winter setting in, there are fears that desperately needed aid could come too late for many of them.

Greater losses than thought

More than 50,000 died of injuries from the quake – a further 50,000 could now die of exposure

Amir Abdulla, WFP's Regional Director for the Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe

Abdulla said the initial findings of newly completed WFP-led assessments had shown that the devastation and losses caused by the earthquake were considerably greater than had at first been thought, with around 2.3 million needing food aid through winter.

More than half of those interviewed by the assessors had lost all their grain stocks – this in some of the most food-insecure districts of Pakistan.

The movement of aid supplies has been severely hampered by washed away roads and landslides – many of them triggered by continuing aftershocks.

Growing frustration

Aid workers have reported a growing sense of frustration and anger among the population, who feel that aid has been too slow in reaching them.

WFP has been using mules to reach some villages and the Pakistan Army has helped by carrying food supplies on foot.

WFP is working to pre-position thousands of tons of food stocks in mobile warehouses within reach of the most remote areas. Over the next six months it aims to transport 500 tons of food a day to distribution points across the earthquake zone.