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Bulletin No. 25 - South Asia earthquake

16-12-2005 Operational Update

Latest report on ICRC activities

 Needs still emerging in remote areas  

Two months after the earthquake, ICRC assessment teams are still discovering people desperately in need of help in remote mountain areas. A team that visited two villages in the Nura Seri area of the Neelum valley reported that 95% of mud houses had been destroyed. The state of health of the villagers was found to be alarming, with cases of diarrhoea and skin diseases on the rise and people with broken bones that had not been treated since the earthquake. In one of the villages there were 400 children below the age of five, a particularly vulnerable group.

The villagers also expressed concern about the welfare of widows and other vulnerable people who could not travel to the relief distribution points. They said that up to 90% of livestock had died, leading to a lack of dairy products. Most of the maize crop had also been destroyed and all the grinding mills were broken. Both villages had received some help from local charities and the army.

The ICRC has now sent in a medical team and will distribute full two-month food rations to all the villagers and corrugated iron sheeting to the most vulnerable families.

More needs are emerging regularly as ICRC teams return to villages after initial distributions and have more time to talk to people as they carry out further assessments and monitoring.

 First phase of emergency distributions completed according to plan  

The ICRC has completed the first phase of distributions slightly ahead of time, thanks to exceptional weather conditions which allowed helicopters to fly almost uninterruptedly. The plan was to distribute basic shelter materials and food to 200,000 people affected by the earthquake - roughly 25% of the total population living in Pakistan-administered Kashmir - before the end of the year.

Distributions are now continuing with a second round including new items such as warm clothing, soap, corrugated iron sheeting and tools. 

So far, the ICRC has distributed over 4,850 tonnes of aid to over 204,000 people. This includes:non-food: 184,800 blankets, 61,000 tarpaulins and 5,200 tents; 33,100 items of clothing for men and the same quantity for women, 16,500 items of clothing for children; 33 tonnes of laundry soap and 10 tonnes of toilet soap; food: 1,869 tonnes of rice, 869 tonnes of split peas, 357 tonnes of ghee, 347 tonnes of sugar, 90 tonnes of tea and 53 tonnes of iodized salt.

 First deliveries of corrugated iron sheeting and tool kits  

It has been clear for some time that corrugated iron sheeting and tools to repair collapsed houses or build temporary shelters for the winter are the items most in demand, especially at higher altitudes where heavy snow will make tents difficult to use.

This is easier said than done, however, and it has taken several weeks to order these materials from manufacturers in Pakistan. Producing wooden boxes strong enough for helicopter airlifts has been another challenge. ICRC engineer Jean Vergain remembers: " The first time we tested a box by lifting it into the air it broke. Stronger boxes had to be designed capable of holding up to two tonnes without risk of accident when flying over villages. "

The first kits have now been delivered to the village of Batnara, at an altitude of over 2,000 metres in the mountains between the Neelum and Jhelum valleys. Each kit is transported in a large net hanging from a helicopter and contains materials for 20 households.

Initially, 5,000 households will receive an average of 12 corrugated iron sheets, one thin metal sheet and one repair kit each. Tool kits comprise a hammer, saw, pliers and nails. The programme is aimed at villages at altitudes where snow will fall first in areas that have received least help so far.

There are plans to expand the programme if these first distributions prove successful.

 Carpenters fly to remote villages to help build winter shelters  

The most vulnerable among the earthquake victims, such as widows and elderly people, are unable to carry the building materials themselves or assemble temporary shelters, even if provided with tools.

The ICRC has therefore hired 20 local carpenters in Muzaffarabad and transports them by helicopter to the villages where iron sheeting is being distributed. The craftsmen stay there for a few days to help those who need help in building shelters.

    

 Warm winter clothing and essential household items  

The second phase of assistance distributions also features warm clothing for men, women and children, shoes, laundry and toilet soap, towels and candles.

This programme got under way during the past week and some 8,000 households have so far received aid in nine villages, mainly in the Neel um valley. The aim is to reach nearly 42,000 households in the coming weeks.

 First fortnight of work for mother-and-child clinic in Cham  

The ICRC's mother-and-child clinic in Cham has been providing health care to the population of this isolated off-shoot of the Jhelum valley for two weeks now. Up to 100 patients are already being seen each day.

The team in Cham consists of an ICRC team leader, a midwife and two nurses, one of whom has a public health background. There are also two female translators and other support staff.

Diarrhoea is a common complaint in Cham, especially among children, and several youngsters are being rehydrated daily in a tent set aside for the purpose. Some mothers and their children have respiratory tract infections. The medical team therefore holds hygiene-promotion sessions for patients coming to the clinic and for community heads from the surrounding villages. These local leaders are asked to pass on the health messages to their families once they return home.

The ICRC medical unit is also taking part in the Ministry of Health's vaccination campaign. Over 200 children were immunized against measles, mumps and rubella in the first three days alone. Those who needed it were given an oral polio booster and vitamin A. Others were vaccinated against tetanus. 

 Going back to places already assisted  

On 10 December, ICRC teams return ed to the area around Gujar Bandi in the Jhelum valley to assess the situation after the distributions. This is a common practice to monitor the use of aid, but also to keep in contact with communities already assisted in order to identify any further needs or changes in their situation.

The villagers reported that part of the population had migrated to different places, leaving at least one person behind to guard the property and livestock and to collect relief. Families were staying further down the valley to protect young children from the winter cold. There was already some snow covering the ground and more was expected soon.    

Discussions revealed that all households had received ICRC food and shelter distributions, and the villagers confirmed that the aid had been distributed fairly. There were no complaints about the quality of the food. 

Most tents did not withstand the first snow and people said they would use them in the spring. However, those who used to live in mud houses have no alternative, as they cannot afford the cost of tin sheeting and labour. The price of both has gone up since the earthquake.

People have also become more vulnerable to illness as their diets have changed radically following the loss of up to 85% of their livestock. Dairy products, which are an essential source of protein for the population, have therefore become rare.

 Finance  

To respond to the needs of the earthquake victims, the ICRC extended its 2005 budget for Pakistan from an initial 5.6 million Swiss francs to 62 million francs and launched an appeal to donors on 17 October. This extension covers operations only up until 31 December 2005.

To date, the ICRC has received over 56 million francs in contributions to its operations in Pakistan. The public has donated over two million francs to the ICRC, including 840,000 francs on line.

For its humanitarian operations in Pakistan in 2006, the ICRC has appealed for over 97 million francs.

The ICRC is asking its donors and the public to continue responding generously to its appeals.