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Pakistan: More could die in urban squalor

Monday 7 November, 2005

Pakistan: More could die in urban squalor than in cut off
communities warns Oxfam

The focus on what’s happening in the most remote communities in earthquake-hit Kashmir is overshadowing the thousands more lives that are in danger in the increasing number of camps, said Oxfam today.

As winter approaches tens of thousands of people are set to move into formal and informal, large and small temporary camps. Many of the camps have been erected on flood plains with inadequate water and sanitation facilities. The risk from disease is growing and the population density in these camps means that were there to be an outbreak of disease, the mortality rate could far exceed the death rate in the isolated villages.

With thousands already living in squalid conditions and tens of thousands more set to join them, Oxfam is calling for equal attention to be given to those in the camps as to those still in their villages.

Jane Cocking, who is in Pakistan leading Oxfam’s emergency response said, “The thousands of people living in remote villages are in serious danger – especially once the snows come – but the plight of those who are living in camps has not received the same attention. Unless conditions are improved in these camps, diseases like cholera could spread like wildfire. If disease does break-out in the camps, the number of deaths could far exceed those in danger in their villages.”

The United Nations estimates that three million people are now homeless in Pakistan as a result of the earthquake. Tens of thousands of people living in remote villages are already on their way to towns such as Muzaffarabad. The increasing numbers will take the pressure on nonexistent camp infrastructure to breaking point.

The UN has called on the international community to provide US$550 million to respond to the urgent needs of survivors on the ground. Three weeks on from the devastating earthquake, only around 20 percent of the total money needed has been committed.

"We could soon see as many people dying from cold and disease as perished in the initial earthquake. There is no doubt that large numbers of vulnerable people are facing certain death unless the international community steps up its response to this disaster", said Jane Cocking.

Oxfam is rapidly scaling up its water and sanitation operation. Oxfam engineers have already restored a supply of clean water to almost 100,000 people in some of the worst affected areas, and plan to provide water to another half a million.

In Hazaram, north of Muzaffarabad, Oxfam is providing water and sanitation to hospitals, including latrines and bathing cubicles. In Balakot, one of the worst hit areas very close to the epicentre of the earthquake, Oxfam is providing assistance in five camps, working on latrines and fixing pipelines from the mountains to bring in water.

Oxfam continues to distribute aid providing tents, blankets, plastic sheeting and woollen sheets that in the past few days have reached 43,000 people in Masehra, Abbotabad, Shangla, Muzzaffarabad and Dheer Khot. An Oxfam helicopter has been distributing relief to remote mountain villages including Gunta in the Allai Valley, home to an estimated 100,000 people.


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