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Red Cross Begins Recovery Operations in Pakistan's Earthquake Zone


The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says humanitarian operations in Pakistan's earthquake zone have begun shifting from relief to recovery now that winter has ended and people are starting to return to where they once lived. Red Cross Officials tell VOA about the difficulties that lie ahead.

Red Cross Media Officer, Anna Nelson, has just returned from a visit to Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province.

"This region gives remote a whole new meaning," Nelson said.

One place she went to was the Kaghan Valley. Anna Nelson tells VOA the area is so remote that help did not arrive until mid-December, two months after the earthquake hit.

"It sits in a bit of a bowl surrounded by snow-capped mountains," she explained. "There is still snow on those mountains. And, then the soil is water logged and the earthquake made the ground very unstable and so you will get these rock slides that can come down and close off the only road for four to five weeks. And, that has been the case now for the past four to five weeks. And, when I was there, there were aftershocks that could still be felt."

Nelson says the difficulties of getting corrugated iron sheeting and other materials needed to rebuild shelters to remote areas such as this are mind boggling. Fortunately, the people living there are very hardy and resilient. She says they often walk impossibly long distances, up steep, narrow mountain roads carrying heavy loads on their backs.

She says people are looking forward to getting back to their normal lives. She says they want seeds so they can plant a crop this year. She says they are looking forward to their children going back to school next week.

"There is a lot of support that needs to be given," Nelson said. "Their children are afraid to be indoors because of the ongoing aftershocks. So, there is a lot of support that is needed there. One of the things that they were telling me is that they are in desperate need of medical staff, of life-saving drugs. They see a lot of problems like dehydration, respiratory problems, scabies in children."

The Pakistani government is offering a compensation package of about $2,000 to $3,000 to earthquake victims. But, Red Cross Regional Officer for Pakistan, Christine South, says not everyone will be able to get the money.

"If there are female headed households, they may not be able to access the compensation package if they do not have a male member of the family to access," South said. "And, there may be other vulnerable groups that cannot easily access and that is where the Red Cross and Red Crescent want to be there to provide support to those vulnerable families as needed."

The earthquake killed more than 73,000 people and left more than 3.5 million homeless. During the next three years, the Red Cross says it plans to help one million victims to rebuild their lives.

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