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UNHCR Boosts Relief to Pakistan Earthquake Victims


The United Nations refugee agency says it is boosting its distribution of winterized materials to earthquake victims in Pakistan. UNHCR says thousands of survivors still are unprepared to weather the sub-freezing temperatures gripping the Himalayan mountain villages.

The winter cold has hit northern Pakistan's quake zone. The mountain villages now are -10 degrees centigrade at night. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says it already has distributed masses of relief supplies to the quake victims. But, it is not enough to protect thousands of survivors from the cold.

UNHCR Spokesman Ron Redmond says the agency is boosting its winterization campaign with a new round of aid distribution in camps for quake survivors. These include hundreds of thousands of blankets and plastic sheets. He says stoves and other supplies also are being distributed.

"But, with the cold weather, people are inevitably going to try to stay warm with candles and stoves inside their tents," explained Mr. Redmond. "That is going to increase the risk of fires. We are working with the authorities to try to find safe ways to provide heating in the camps, including mud fireplaces, which are made by Afghan refugees. We have actually enlisted Afghan refugees in this effort, because they are quite experienced in making it through the winter in very rudimentary shelter." Mr. Redmond said the Afghan refugees have a lot to teach the Pakistani earthquake victims.

He said the UNHCR also is concerned that tens of thousands of people from upper regions are likely to come down to the valleys as temperatures dip. He said his agency is working with the government to expand existing sites, so they can hold the new arrivals.

Another concern is spontaneous camps. UNHCR Spokesman Redmond said nearly 127,000 people are living in 335 squalid camps. "Our mobile teams are working in those camps to try to fix latrines, bathrooms, communal kitchens," he explained. "So far, they have managed to improve facilities in 50 of the camps. We also are working with UNICEF, OXFAM and other partners to provide water. We are decongesting some of the more overcrowded spontaneous camps, helping people to move elsewhere."

Mr. Redmond said U.N. aid workers who have visited spontaneous camps in the Northwest Frontier Province found many women with various health problems. He said women doctors are urgently needed.