WFP hands out food in city worst hit by South Asia earthquake

Published on 13 October 2005

WFP begins handing out emergency food rations to thousands of desperate people in Muzaffarabad, the city worst hit by 8 October’s huge earthquake.

WFP has begun handing out emergency food rations to thousands of desperate people in Muzaffarabad, the city worst hit by last Saturday’s huge earthquake. Some 12,000 people have so far received a two-day ration of high-energy biscuits, which covers their nutritional needs.

A WFP convoy carrying 30 metric tons of biscuits arrived in Muzaffarabad last night, after travelling for more than 12 hours along mountain roads and tracks, choked with traffic and lined with people clamouring for assistance.

The city was shaken late last night by a strong aftershock, setting off landslides, which again blocked roads and cut off access to surrounding villages.

Recruiting volunteers

The distribution of the biscuits was complicated by the absence of a non-government organisation in the city with the capacity to help carry it out, making it necessary for WFP to recruit volunteers from the local community.

“It has been all going smoothly today, without any looting or chaotic scenes. People lined up to collect coupons, which they then exchanged for food rations at three separate distribution points,” said Keith Ursel, a WFP Programme Officer who was organising the distributions. “Some of the people said this was their first food since the earthquake.”

Relief operations

WFP was the first UN agency to start relief operations in the city, although other assistance has been arriving, much of it sent by individuals or bodies keen to help, but without providing any organised system of distribution.

The result has been a chaotic free-for-all, with crowds scrambling for blankets, food and other items, literally thrown off vehicles. The Pakistan army has been deployed, helping to ensure order and hand out assistance.

WFP staff travelling with the convoy described scenes in Muzaffarabad as apocalyptic, with dazed and confused people wandering around the ruins or simply sitting at the side of the road, waiting to be helped. Few buildings in the city remain intact and efforts are still continuing to pull bodies out of the rubble.

High-energy biscuits

Most of the survivors lack the means to cook food, hence the high energy biscuits, which require no preparation before eating. However, WFP will be supplementing the biscuits with dates and a dry ration of flour, pulses and oil, so that people can start to prepare meals as soon as they have access to cooking implements.

At the time of the earthquake, there were no WFP stocks of high energy biscuits in Pakistan, making it necessary to fly them in from its humanitarian depot in Brindisi, Italy. The first planeload – 80 tons – arrived in Islamabad on Tuesday night and trucked to the earthquake zone the following day.

Second flight

A second WFP flight is due to leave Brindisi tomorrow, while on Saturday, one of WFP’s largest corporate partners, the global, express, logistics and mail company, TNT, will fly out a further 33 metric tons of BP-5 high energy biscuits, donated by the Government of Norway.

“This is the latest example of the invaluable support we have been receiving from TNT,” said WFP Pakistan Representative German Valdivia. “We greatly appreciate TNT’s assistance to our operation in Pakistan.”