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Swiss aid experts arrive in Pakistan

Hundreds of thousands need help in both Pakistan and India, with winter fast approaching

(Keystone)

A Swiss team of aid experts has arrived in Pakistan to assess the effects of Saturday's earthquake and discuss which additional relief supplies are required.

The seven-man rapid response unit from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) includes water and construction specialists and doctors.

"We made an initial assessment this morning with our development partners already in Pakistan and discussed what could be relevant as aid," Andreas Stauffer, spokesman for the SDC, told swissinfo.

"What is mostly sought after are wind-resistant tents."

Switzerland has already earmarked SFr1 million ($780,000) for the earthquake victims.

The total death toll after the 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck the Himalayan region on Saturday ranged from 20,000 to above 30,000 and was expected to rise.

But Stauffer said it was too soon to give an exact figure.

"It's very difficult to say," he said. "We've just seen a newspaper report saying it could go up to 40,000, but it's pretty difficult to judge."

Swiss support

The Swiss group, which arrived in the Pakistan capital of Islamabad at 6am local time on Monday, also planned their journey to Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan's portion of divided Kashmir.

The area around Muzaffarabad bore the brunt of the earthquake and is desperately short of food, medicine and water.

"It's a mountainous area and we will see what the main challenges are when we are there," Stauffer said, adding that he was satisfied with the level of support the team had.

"We have the full support of the authorities, the Swiss embassy, our local partners and the SDC office. I think we're getting there."

Stauffer said the most urgently needed supplies were tents, drugs, sheets and blankets.

He added that the SDC was now working out what could be bought in the area and what could be sent in from Switzerland.

Desperation

Shopkeepers in Muzaffarabad clashed with looters and hungry families huddled under tents waiting for relief supplies on Monday after Pakistan's worst earthquake razed entire villages, buried roads in rubble and knocked out electricity at the weekend.

The United Nations said more than 2.5 million people have been left homeless by the earthquake, and doctors warned of disease outbreaks unless more relief arrives soon.

Stauffer, however, did not see any immediate risk of disease spreading.

"We made an assessment in this area and we didn't find any difficulties – as long as one uses bottled water, I don't see any problem for the time being," he said.

With resources stretched beyond their limits, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf appealed for foreign donors to supply tents, blankets, transport helicopters and medicine.

The United States' ambassador to Pakistan has pledged up to $50 million for earthquake relief and reconstruction.

swissinfo, Thomas Stephens

Key facts

An earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale devastated parts of Pakistan, India and Afghanistan on Sunday.
Most of the estimated 20,000-30,000 dead were in Pakistan's mountainous north.
The earthquake was also felt in neighbouring countries; India reported more than 800 deaths and Afghanistan reported four.

end of infobox

In brief

A Swiss team of aid experts arrived in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, to discuss which additional relief supplies should be sent from Switzerland.

On the same day, the first American plane with relief supplies landed at an air base near the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, as international aid, including emergency rescue workers, began to flow in.

Swiss Solidarity, the fund-raising arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, has launched an appeal to help victims of both the Kashmir earthquake and Hurricane Stan in Central America.

The postal account number for donations is 10-15000-6, with mention of "Earthquake Kashmir" or "Hurricane Central America".

end of infobox


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