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UN & Nato Launch Airlift For Quake Victoms

UN Refugee Agency, Nato Launch Joint Relief Airlift For Pakistani Quake Victims

With Secretary-General Kofi Annan calling on international organizations to join an “immediate and exceptional escalation” of relief operations for Pakistan’s devastating earthquake, the United Nations refugee agency has begun its first ever joint large-scale airlift with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

The first three flights in the operation, supported by the Turkish government, took off from Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey yesterday afternoon with more than 25 tonnes of urgently needed supplies, the start of an air bridge that will ferry some 860 tonnes of aid from the UN refugee agency's regional warehouse in nearby Iskenderun.

Dozens of sorties by NATO aircraft will probably be required to move all of the supplies for the victims of the quake, which has already killed 42,000, injured at least 67,000 others and left some 3 million homeless.

“A second, massive wave of death will happen if we do not step up our efforts now,” Mr. Annan warned yesterday, calling for helicopters, trucks and heavy lifting equipment, 450,000 winterized tents and temporary shelters, 2 million blankets and sleeping bags, tarpaulins, ground sheets, stoves, water, sanitation equipment and food.

“Although UNHCR worked closely with non-combatant NATO forces in Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia during the Kosovo crisis, this is the first time the UN refugee agency and NATO have mounted a joint airlift of this size,” UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said.

Hundreds of tons of UNHCR relief supplies, including thousands of tents, are also being rushed from other stockpiles around the world. Tents have become one of the most urgent priorities, as hundreds of thousands of quake survivors struggle to find shelter in the cold, wet weather, which may soon turn to snow with the approach of the region’s harsh winter.

Meanwhile the UN World Food Programme (WFP) reported that thousands of people had started fleeing their remote and hard-to-reach villages, seeking medical attention, food and water, as landslides and bad weather continued to impede the delivery of desperately needed relief supplies.

“Thousands of people are walking down the mountains. Whole families are moving. They do not seem to have any tents or any other form of shelter,” WFP aid worker Mia Turner said from Kashmir.

“There are about 20,000 people here and we are distributing flour and high energy biscuits to them. They told us they have had little or nothing to eat in days,” she added.

WFP food assistance to the region is being transported by truck where roads are open and by helicopter and pack mules in more remote mountain areas. It is estimated that there are up to 500,000 needy people whom no one has reached because of their remote locations, appalling weather conditions and landslides.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) warned that the onset of winter coupled with a lack of shelter is a serious health concern that needs to be resolved quickly to avoid health problems such as hypothermia, shock and death. Warm blankets and winterized tents are urgently needed.

Although no major outbreaks of disease have been identified, risk factors still exist. Access to safe water, adequate sanitation and nutritious food are a priority to keep people healthy and prevent disease, it added.

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