WFP today began expanding its food distributions to mountain villages near the epicentre of last Saturday’s earthquake. Operations are hampered, however, by severe damage to roads and landslides, with many areas still accessible only by air.
Trucks loaded with high energy biscuits fanned out in several different directions from Muzaffarabad in an effort to reach as many people as possible in villages that have received little or no assistance since the earthquake struck.
Some 25,000 people are feared dead and hundreds of thousand have been left homeless and destitute.
“We headed south, but after 10 km, the road had gone – the tarmac was buckled like a staircase. We got a message through to the villagers and they came down on foot to collect the food,” said Mia Turner, a WFP staff member travelling with the convoy.
“We are going to have to use helicopters reach most of the people out there.”
Even the people we have been able to reach have little more than a sheet of plastic to protect themselves against the elements.
Mia Turner, WFP spokesperson
WFP will be using a fleet of 14 helicopters to support the relief operation – six more than originally planned. Four are already in the country and have started airlifting food to earthquake victims in and around the town of Manshera, some 30 km west of Muzaffarabad.
Two heavy-lift helicopters are now on their way to Pakistan from Malaysia, aboard a giant Antonov-124 cargo plane. They are due to arrive this evening. Four more are due next week.
Apart from the damage to roads, access is further complicated by the sheer weight of traffic on those that remain open, causing jams and tailbacks several kilometres long.
WFP is also concerned that falling temperatures in the mountains will present a serious problem for the hundreds of thousands of people still without shelter.
“Even the people we have been able to reach have little more than a sheet of plastic to protect themselves against the elements. Temperatures at night are plummeting and there are now forecasts of snow,” Turner said.
Tents and blankets
Forty light trucks diverted from WFP’s Afghanistan operation to help the relief effort have been loaded with tents and blankets and are expected to reach the earthquake zone within the next two days.
Other aid agencies and the Pakistan army have also been putting up tents and some are distributing food.
WFP trucks carrying food are being dispatched every day from Islamabad to Muzaffarabad and the surrounding area, a journey taking a minimum of 12 hours.
To ensure a continuing supply of biscuits – vital at this early stage of relief, when people still lack the means to prepare food – WFP is sending another plane carrying medical supplies and biscuits from its humanitarian depot in Brindisi tomorrow.
This is in addition to a flight by an Airbus of the global express, logistics and mail company, TNT, the same day, carrying 32 tons of BP5 high energy biscuits, donated by Norway.