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ICRC president visits earthquake region

A tent city in northern Pakistan set up by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees

(Keystone)

Jakob Kellenberger, president of the Swiss-run International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), is visiting Pakistan to view his organisation's work.

He said food and accommodation must be provided so that people affected by the earthquake on October 8 can remain near their villages.

"A further break-up of community life would make the psychological trauma that these people have suffered even worse," Kellenberger said.

"Our top priority now is saving lives and protecting existing livelihoods during the tough winter months."

Kellenberger will stay in Pakistan until Thursday and is set to meet President Musharraf on Wednesday.

The ICRC president will also visit a hospital in the region's main city, Muzaffarabad – which bore the brunt of the earthquake – and will fly in a helicopter through two valleys which were also badly affected.

Three weeks after the earthquake the number of victims continues to rise.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said on Tuesday that in Pakistan alone 57,000 people had been killed, almost 80,000 injured and some 3.3 million been made homeless.

Dwindling aid

Aid organisations said on Tuesday that reserves to get vital relief supplies to earthquake victims are dwindling dangerously low as winter closes in and donations only trickle.

The United Nations said it needs $550 million (SFr710 million) to get emergency aid to people stranded by landslides in the mountainous area of northern Pakistan. As of Tuesday donors had pledged $131 million.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said other agencies covered by the UN appeal had similar shortfalls: the World Health Organization has received 35 per cent of its appeal, Unicef 27 per cent and the International Organization for Migration 12.7 per cent.

In a separate development on Tuesday, a United States army helicopter delivering aid in Pakistan apparently came under fire.

US Central Command said a CH-47 Chinook helicopter – which returned safely with its crew to Chaklala air base – "is believed to have been fired upon by a rocket-propelled grenade", but did not identify who fired the weapon.

Pakistan said the blast heard by the pilot was probably caused by dynamite.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The earthquake which struck Pakistan and India on October 8 measured 7.6 on the Richter scale.
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said on Tuesday that in Pakistan alone 57,000 people had been killed, almost 80,000 injured and some 3.3 million been made homeless.
Around 1,300 people also died in India's Kashmir region.
The initial donor response has been slow. Increased aid has to be raised urgently because winter snowfalls expected within weeks will severely restrict aid operations.

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In brief

The Geneva-based ICRC was founded in 1863 by Henri Dunant, a Swiss businessman and humanitarian.

It works mainly to protect victims of conflict and disaster by providing humanitarian assistance and conducting prisoner of war visits.

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