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US Officials Pledge Support for South Asia Earthquake Victims

U.S. officials testifying before Congress have pledged support for the victims of the South Asian earthquake.

Christina Rocca, assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, says cold weather and snow could worsen an already difficult situation in the high-altitude areas of the earthquake zone.

With winter approaching, she says the most urgent need will be for shelter for more than three-million people made homeless by the quake.

Appearing before the House Asia-Pacific Subcommittee, she said the U.S. commitment to helping quake victims will be ongoing. She also focused on cooperation in this circumstance between India and Pakistan. "This can be a significant moment for the relationship between India and Pakistan. We have seen Pakistanis and Indians working together to provide help to victims in Kashmir. The historic talks between the governments of India and Pakistan over the past year and a half laid the groundwork for the trust that would allow this level of cooperation. The governments of the two countries have found the political will to allow the people of Kashmir ready access to their relatives on either side of the line of control and to take measures which help the humanitarian crisis faced by the area," she said.

Against the background, Assistant Secretary Rocca warned against what she called efforts by those who are cynically using the situation to carry out attacks.

The Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir State Education Minister was assassinated earlier this week in an attack blamed on Muslim militants, and condemned by Pakistan.

Ms. Rocca called this unacceptable, adding "The real battle going on in Kashmir today and for the foreseeable future will be to save the hundreds of thousands of innocent lives and to overcome a natural disaster the likes of which this region has never experienced."

Republican Congressman Jim Leach, the committee chairman, said the longer-term effects of the earthquake pose a greater challenge to the international community than the problems caused by last year's tsunami. "It appears to me that the [last year's South Asian] tsunami was more devastating for loss of life in the immediacy, but this particular disaster could be many times more difficult in the aftermath than the tsunami was."

Michael Hess, of the U.S. Agency for International Development, says efforts are continuing to reach areas that have not been accessible: "We are concerned about our ability to get temporary housing into the region. We are also aware that many of the people in the region are very concerned about aftershocks because as you know they continue in the region, and even if their shelter survived at some level they are afraid to go back into it," he said.

In addition to providing 17 helicopters in support of relief efforts, with more expected to follow, the United States is also helping to airdrop medical and other humanitarian supplies in the quake area.

At next week's United Nations-sponsored donors meeting in Geneva, U.S. officials will be pressing for more monetary and other support from nations and private donors.