| A father waits for treatment with his injured two-year-old son outside a makeshift emergency medical centre in Muzaffarabad. (Reuters)
Muzaffarbad (Pakistan), Oct. 20 (Reuters): The aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Pakistan’s northern mountains is turning into the toughest relief operation the world has ever known, international aid officials said today.
“We have never had this kind of logistical nightmare ever. We thought the tsunami was bad, this is worse,” said UN emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland.
He castigated governments for being slow to give urgently needed money and called on Nato to set up a “Berlin Airlift” to save tens of thousands of people awaiting help in the rugged hills of Pakistani Kashmir and North West Frontier Province.
“The emergency in Kashmir is becoming worse by day as the extent of the emergency dawns on us. The world is not responding as we should be,” Egeland said in Geneva.
Although the confirmed death toll ' 50,000 in Pakistan and 1,300 in Kashmir ' is only about a quarter of that in last year’s December 26 Indian Ocean tsunami, it could double, he said.
“I presume there will be more ... we know of dead and then there are people that are missing,” Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf told CNN. “Certainly it will be more than 50,000.”
Pakistan said the number of injured, now 74,000, could also rise substantially with large areas still not reached nearly two weeks after the earthquake struck and the first heavy snowfalls of the harsh Himalayan winter a month or less away.
“We need a second Berlin airbridge, and if they could do that in the end of the 1940s, set up in no time a lifeline to millions of people, we should be able to do that in 2005,” Egeland said of the US-led airlift set up in 1949 to keep Soviet-blockaded West Berlin supplied.
“We are humanitarians, we don’t know how to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people in the Himalayas. But the most efficient military alliance in the world should be able to,” Egeland said.
Unicef, the UN children’s agency, said hundreds of cut-off villages needed urgent help and 10,000 children could die of hunger, hypothermia and disease over the next few weeks. “There are still too few helicopters to reach more than 1,000 remote villages with life-saving supplies that children urgently need,” Unicef director Ann Veneman said.
Aid workers say the most urgent need is to distribute tents. “We need the world’s help to provide tents and kerosene heaters to protect people from the cold,” said Major-General Farooq Ahmed Khan, chief coordinator of the relief effort.
World Food Progamme spokeswoman Mia Turner said time was running out for the homeless. “Shelter is crucial and if people don’t get that soon there will be a crisis of a different kind ' people will start dying of exposure,” she said.
Hopes have been raised by a dramatic agreement by Pakistan and India to allow help to flow across the heavily militarised line dividing Kashmir, over which they have fought two of their three wars.
Egeland urged the two countries to set aside differences over Kashmir and “work out a compromise immediately” to speed aid across the line of control dividing the disputed region.