Devastation in Pakistan worse than expected - survey

Published on 28 October 2005

WFP has said that losses and devastation from this month's earthquake in northern Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir were far worse than had first been thought, and that 2.3 million people may now require food aid to get through winter.

These conclusions were based on the preliminary findings of an assessment in the quake-hit region,carried out by WFP with support from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the British based non-government organization, Oxfam.

It found that 2.5 million people had lost their homes, most of them in rural areas, and were living in tents or makeshift shelters.

"Completely desperate"

“These people were already poor before the earthquake hit. In a matter of just a few minutes everything they had – their homes and livelihoods – disappeared.

"Now they are completely desperate. We have to reach them before winter does – and that means within the next three weeks,” warned Anette Haller, a WFP Programme Adviser, who headed the assessment team.

Immediate aftermath

These people were already poor before the earthquake hit. Now they are completely desperate. We have to reach them within the next three weeks

Anette Haller, WFP Programme Adviser

In the immediate aftermath of the crisis, WFP appealed for US$56 million to provide emergency food relief for one million of the worst affected people for six months.

However, it gave a warning earlier this week that this figure could well be revised now on the basis of the assessment. It is also appealing for US$100 million to provide air support for aid operations for all agencies.

Too little money

The assessment results come amid growing concern that donors were contributing too little money to emergency relief efforts by the UN and other aid organizationson the ground and concentrating instead on supporting longer-term reconstruction projects.

WFP warned on 27 October that with winter approaching, a window of hope for survivors was slamming shut.

Food insecure

Six out of the nine districts affected by the earthquake were already in the most food insecure parts of Pakistan, where people depend on subsistence farming, livestock and wage labour during the lean season.

According to the findings, more than half of rural households surveyed lost all or most of their grain stocks and one fourth of the livestock was killed.

Acute malnutrition

The local economy has collapsed. Even if the survivors had money to buy food, supplies are extremely limited

Anette Haller, WFP Programme Adviser

Large numbers of children were found to be suffering from diarrhoea or respiratory illnesses, suggesting that a rapid increase in cases of acute malnutrition could be imminent.

About 20 percent of mothers with children under two years old had stopped breastfeeding, either because of illness or inadequate breast milk.

According to the survey, priority should be given to the estimated 200,000 people living in the most difficult to reach areas in Neelum, Jhelum, Kaghan and Naran valley as well as upper parts of Alai which will soon be cut off by snow for months.

Last resort

The survey noted that less than ten percent of the affected population had left their communities for safer areas, the majority preferring to stay close to their lands and livestock. While larger movements of people are expected to move into camps as winter sets in, this is seen as a last resort.

“These are people traditionally very attached to their land and livestock which up to now have been their sole means of survival. They are not ready to leave them behind to move into camps,” Haller said.

Soaring prices

Markets have also not recovered in three of the hardest hit areas, with trading coming to a virtual halt in many areas. And where markets are functioning, prices have soared. In addition, banks are closed, restricting cash and credit flow.

“The local economy has collapsed. Even if the survivors had money to buy food, supplies are extremely limited. Many people are coming down from the mountains only to go back up empty handed,” stressed Haller.

The assessment mission recommended assistance to urban areas for the next two months and in rural areas until the end of February.

Read the Joint WFP/UNICEF Emergency Food Security and Nutrition Assessment (with the support of Oxfam)