Thousands flee remote quake-hit villages

Published on 19 October 2005

Thousands of people have started fleeing their remote and hard-to-reach villages in northern Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir, seeking medical attention, food and water, as landslides and bad weather continue to impede the delivery of desperately needed relief supplies, WFP has warned.

“WFP and other aid agencies are finally managing to reach more remote earthquake affected areas that were previously inaccessible because of landslides.

"At the same time, aid workers have today observed thousands of people descending from the mountains to seek assistance in the valleys,” said Michael Jones, WFP emergency coordinator in Pakistan.

Massive bulldozers

The Pakistani military are using massive bulldozers to clear road blockages to enable relief vehicles to get through to villages that have not received any aid since the earthquake that killed at least 40,000 people hit this area on 8 October.

“Large numbers of survivors are moving down mountain roads in search of help. We saw them today after we reached Kamsar in the Neelum Valley, an area that opened up last night for the first time," said WFP aid worker Mia Turner, now in Kashmir.

"Nothing to eat in days"

“There are about 20,000 people here and we are distributing flour and high energy biscuits to them. They told us they have had little or nothing to eat in days.

“Thousands of people are walking down the mountains. Whole families are moving. They do not seem to have any tents or any other form of shelter, ” said Turner.

Buried in the mud

The WFP team in Kamsar said the route to the village had been blocked by a massive landslide. Crushed vehicles could be seen buried in the mud and under huge granite boulders.

On the way up the mountain, the team passed two villages that had been completely destroyed by the earthquake. The air around Kamsar is full of dust as landslides continue – caused by the frequent aftershocks.

Trucks, helicopters, mules

WFP food assistance to the region is being transported by truck where roads are open and by helicopter and pack mules in more remote mountain areas.

Aid agencies, however, are also preparing to move survivors who opted to descend to the valleys instead of waiting in inaccessible villages.

“The intention is that the displaced should be accommodated in temporary large tented camps,” Jones said.

Unknown numbers

However, many desperate people, among them unknown numbers of injured, still remain in the mountains, survivors said. It is estimated that there are up to 500,000 needy people whom no one has reached because of their remote locations, appalling weather conditions and landslides.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the situation in the region had become dire, with a deep sense of challenge and desperation in the field, amid fears that the logistical challenges of the operation may be insurmountable.

It said many people were dying before help could reach them.

Shuttling foodstuffs

“We are moving up to fifty tons of foodstuffs a day and shuttling it into location as we get it,” said Jones.

“And we're transporting the food supplies along with shelter, blankets and other necessities. WFP is bringing in extra trucks from the region and building up its airlift capacity.”

Pressing need for action

WFP is concerned about donors’ response to the earthquake which hit 11 days ago.

“We know our donors are generous, but there is a pressing need for swift action, otherwise more and more people will suffer and even die,” Jones warned.