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Bulletin No. 24 - South Asia earthquake

28-11-2005 Operational Update

Latest report on ICRC activities.

Clouds moved in during the night of Saturday, 26 November and by the following morning it was pouring with rain. No trips into the field were possible on Sunday.

This meant the cancellation of over 30 helicopter missions that were planned to bring 100 tonnes of shelter material and food to destinations in both the Neelum and Jhelum valleys.

The downpour greatly increased the risk of landslides and so all road transport was also halted. As a result, 50 tonnes of food scheduled to be delivered on a 10-truck convoy to Patti Awanan, east of Muzaffarabad, had to wait.

Today the weather has improved. The ICRC hopes to resume flights on Tuesday.

    

So far the ICRC has distributed over 2,600 tonnes of aid to around 150,000 people. This includes:

  • non-food: 149,000 blankets, 45,400 tarpaulins and 5,200 tents;

  • food: 900 tonnes of rice, 371 tonnes of split peas, 164 tonnes of ghee, 156 tonnes of sugar, 43 tonnes of tea and 22 tonnes of salt.

    

For an overview of ICRC quake-related action so far, please consult

  Bulletin 23  

 A realistic view of winter prospects  

Much has been said about the difficulties the quake-hit population will have surviving the winter. The situation is complex, as ICRC delegates have been finding out in discussions with people in the remote valleys of Muzaffarabad district and hamlets in the high mountains. Three main factors will decide on how and where people spend the winter.

The first is the extent of the destruction and people's ability to retrieve building material from the ruins. As reported earlier, while large zones around the epicentre were totally destroyed, other areas – such as Neelum valley above the village of Jura and those sections of Muzaffarabad town not built in the unstable river basin – were spared in part or in whole. In the lower portions of the valleys, many houses were built of concrete and collapsed, so no material can be retrieved from the rubble. At elevations of between 1,000 and 2,000 metres, material can be salvaged from the ruins (stone, wood and corrugated iron) of more traditional buildings. In these areas, people have started to rebuild and are using ICRC-supplied tarpaulins to help construct rainproof shelters. Delegates report that some of these shelters appear sturdy and well-insulated enough to protect the occupants throughout the winter. In such areas everyone has indicated a need for corrugated iron sheets and tools to rebuild. Farmers and herders at very high elevations normally spend the winter in lower villages. In many cases, however, their usual winter residences have been destroyed or damaged.

The second factor is people's financial situation . The wealthier members of the population and those with relatives in Islamabad an d other lowland cities have left to spend the winter there or have at least sent women and children there. They will wait for spring to rebuild. As a result, Muzaffarabad town is partly deserted. At the same time, poorer displaced people from the mountains have more than offset these departures by setting up makeshift tent camps. The Pakistan authorities have also started handing out sums of money to enable people to buy food for the winter and the building materials increasingly available on the local market. In higher areas, many do not have legal ownership of their land and therefore wish to remain so as not to risk losing it. In Muzaffarabad and other towns, about one third of the population receive remittances from family members living abroad.

Another economic variable is the extent to which herds and food stocks were affected by the earthquake.

A third factor in the decision as to where and how to spend the winter is access to aid . Where roads are opening up, people know they will be able to leave if necessary. Where aid is coming and cash is being received from the authorities, people have the means to spend the winter and are saying they prefer not to leave. " If there's no other choice, my family and I will go " , said one resident of a mountain village in Jhelum valley. " But with the what we have been able to salvage and the aid now coming in, we feel safe enough to stay and take things one day at a time. "

Even in areas receiving aid, the poorest members of the population have no choice: they have nowhere else to go, no money for travelling, and will therefore stay where they are whatever the weather conditions. Many women whose husbands were killed in the earthquake find themselves alone heading a household and deprived of their usual income. This category of earthquake victim is the ICRC's priority; it will help wherever necessary throughout th e winter.

 Fourth ICRC basic health-care unit opening in the Jhelum valley  

The ICRC has just set up a fourth basic health-care unit in Cham, in an off-shoot of the Jhelum valley. It is due to open on 28 November. Two ICRC medical staff are working there together with a local medical team including a midwife. 

Three such units are already operating in Chinari, Pathika and Muzaffarabad.

Cham is situated at 1,800 metres in a deep, narrow valley running north-east from Chinari. The valley has 14 villages and a population of around 25,000 people. Normal access routes are not expected to be reopened before winter, after which roads would in any case be blocked by snow. The snow comes in the second half of November, lasts until June and reaches a depth of 2.5 metres. In winter, access by helicopter is possible but can be impeded for days by fog and snow.

Aerial photos of the valley show houses scattered sparsely on steep slopes. About two thirds of the dwellings are uninhabitable, even if many are still standing. Most deaths were caused by landslides, which are continuing. According to people interviewed, the population consists mainly of herders, who have lost about half of their livestock. Some men brought their herds to the area for grazing in the summer and have been trapped by the blocked roads. They now plan to spend the winter in Cham valley, refusing to go down to more accessible valleys without their livestock.

The ICRC has so far provided over 3,400 households in Cham valley with blankets and tarpaulins.

 Afghan medical team joins ICRC hospital in Muzaffarabad  

This week a medical team sent from Jalalaba d by the Afghan Ministry of Health started working at the ICRC's tent hospital in Muzaffarabad. It is a new form of cooperation for the Afghans but not their first contact with the ICRC, which has supported Jalalabad hospital since 1992 through rehabilitation work, medical supplies and training.

The number of patients at the hospital in Muzaffarabad remains stable at around 100. Since work started on 21 October, over 380 patients have been admitted, including around 300 women and children. Most of them were in serious condition and required.

 Vaccination campaign  

ICRC staff at the hospital and basic health-care units are participating in the Pakistan Health Ministry's vaccination campaign which covers polio, tetanus, diphtheria and measles. In some cases the ICRC vaccinates patients who have come for treatment, while in others a Ministry of Health team travels to ICRC medical facilities to vaccinate all patients.

At the ICRC basic health-care unit in Chinari (Jhelum valley), for instance, over 300 people were vaccinated in four days. On 21 November, two Japanese Red Cross medics based in Chinari and working with two national staff started a measles-vaccination campaign for local school children. Over the next three weeks the team will spend two days a week in the field, vaccinating children and providing them with vitamin A. On the first day, 113 pupils were immunized in the local school in Sawan village, two kilometres outside Chinari.

" We are happy that we can contribute to this emergency vaccination drive, " said Morven Murchison, ICRC public health coordinator in Muzaffarabad. " There has been very good cooperation, and we are glad to do whatever we can to help restore primary health car e. "

 Shelter – corrugated iron and tool kits  

From the start, the ICRC has chosen to distribute large tarpaulins (4x6 metres) in preference to tents. Tarpaulins can be combined with wooden shelters made of materials retrieved from collapsed houses. They are also much lighter and more compact than tents, meaning that up to 16 times more tarpaulins than tents can be transported by a helicopter. So far, the ICRC has distributed over 45,400 units in Muzaffarabad district: at least one to each family assisted.

As emergency needs are being met, many people are now asking for corrugated iron sheets, a building material traditionally used and increasingly available on the local market. Corrugated iron provides quick protection against wind and precipitation, and insulation can be improved by adding a layer of grass between the sheeting and the wooden support structure.

Distributions will target villages at medium altitudes (lower than 2,000 metres) within the range of the basic health-care units run by the ICRC in Chinari and Cham (Jhelum valley) and Pattika (Neelum valley). The programme will include tools and advice on building techniques. Initially, 5,000 households will receive an average of 12 corrugated iron sheets, one thin metal sheet and one repair kit each.

Tool kits comprising a hammer, saw, pliers and nails will be distributed to 40,000 households to help them repair their homes or build temporary shelters.

Distributions of corrugated iron and tool kits are due to start within the next two weeks.

 Finance  

To respond to the needs of the earthquake victims, the ICRC extend ed 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 47 million francs in contributions to its operations in Pakistan. The public has donated over two million Swiss francs to the ICRC, including 760,000 francs on line.

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

    

Photos for the press: over 200 recent photos of the earthquake and ICRC action are now available and can be ordered by e-mail.

    

 
 

For further information, please contact:

 Islamabad / Pakistan  

Leyla Berlemont

mobile +92 300 850 81 38

satellite phone: +88 216 89 80 41 45

(ICRC Islamabad central tel. +92 51 282 47 80 or 282 47 52)

Languages: English/French/Arabic

 Muzaffarabad / Pakistan-administered Kashmir  

Jessica Barry, ICRC Muzaffarabad, + 92 300 852 87 04

or Helena Laatio (ICRC/Finnish Red Cross), satellite phone +88 2165 420 7201

 New Delhi / India  

Michael O'Brien

mobile +91 98 11 80 66 33

(ICRC New Delhi central tel. +91 11 24 35 23 38/97 or 24 35 43 94/95/96)

Languages: English

Pakistan: GMT + 4 hours; India: GMT + 4.5 hours; Geneva: GMT +1