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Race against time to help quake victims

Many people in remote areas live in makeshift shelters Keystone

Swiss relief workers are battling against heavy rains and snowfall as they try to deliver aid to earthquake survivors in northern Pakistan.

This content was published on January 3, 2006 - 21:09

The onset of bad weather has cut off roads and grounded helicopters with hundreds of thousands of people still without basic provisions or shelter as winter starts to bite.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) says that aid has reached communities living at higher altitudes in the nick of time.

But Edwin Brunner, SDC humanitarian aid coordinator in Mansehra, said the Swiss unit faces a difficult battle to reach around 20,000 people in the lowland area, many of whom live in remote valleys.

"We have experienced some really ugly weather over the last few days," he told swissinfo. "A lot of roads have been closed by snow and rock falls while thick cloud cover has grounded helicopters.

"We delivered our last shipment of supplies to the high altitude areas on Christmas Day, which was just in time. The people who have decided to stay up there are really on their own now, but have enough material to survive."

Brunner added that there are still "pockets of isolated people in the valleys" who are in a "fairly desperate situation".

"All the mud homes have collapsed and they are now living in makeshift shelters," he said.

Death toll

October's earthquake in northern Pakistan and Kashmir killed more than 73,000 people and left 3.5 million others homeless.

In recent weeks landslides caused by aftershocks and water erosion have killed at least 24 people, according to relief agencies. In addition, electricity supplies have been cut off in some areas.

The Swiss effort is concentrating on supplying people with shelter for the winter months. The SDC is handing out tents, tarpaulins, rubber mattresses, blankets and clothes for children.

There is enough material, according to Brunner, but getting it to the worst affected areas will prove the biggest challenge.

"Relief is arriving in huge quantities, but we don't have the distribution capacity in the field," said Brunner.

"Our main job in January will be to overcome these hurdles and get the aid to people before the weather stops us. But it should be feasible if all the organisations pull together."

The SDC has distributed shelters and clothing to around 10,000 people so far.

swissinfo, Matthew Allen

Key facts

The earthquake on October 8 killed 73,000 people and left 3.5 million homeless, mainly in northwestern Pakistan and Pakistani Kashmir.
The SDC relief effort is concentrated in the Mensehra district, where an estimated 100,000 people are still in need of aid.
A landslide on December 30 killed 24 people, while another person died when a house collapsed in a separate incident.

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