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Assistance to the victims of the South Asia earthquake

13-10-2005 Press Briefing

Reto Meister, the ICRC's delegate-general for Asia, briefs the press on the South Asia earthquake emergency

   

   
 
  Reto Meister, Delegate General for Asia and the Pacific    
    Last Spring, the ICRC helped 700 people, who had left their homes because of the fighting in Kashmir, to return to the remote valleys north-east of Muzaffarabad. They were provided with basic needs to rebuild their lives, especially seeds for the planning season. " Today, " said Reto Meister, " we have no idea what has happened to those people, but we hope they are alright " .

The good news he had to announce was that tho se valleys had been flown over for the first time by an ICRC helicopter. The damage in the Neelam and Jhelum valleys may well be more severe that in Muzaffarabad itself, but the local people have not moved towards the city. It is unclear whether this is because they cannot move or do not want to.

In the coming days more and more ICRC helicopter flights will be going into the valleys to take in aid and bring out the injured to the new medical facilities being set up in Muzaffarabad. A hundred-bed ICRC field hospital is being created by the Finnish and Norwegian Red Cross societies, providing services ranging from surgery to maternity. It will be supported by outpatient clinics that will deal with lesser medical needs and pass on serious cases to the hospital. At this moment, the Japanese and German Red Cross societies are helping in the response to the medical emergency. Others might join soon.The main hospital in Muzaffarabad was severely damaged in the earthquake.

 "Our ambition is to do what we do well"  

" Care for the wounded and the sick " , said Reto Meister, " was clearly one area where ICRC experience will make a difference " . Now that the rescue phase was coming to an end, the emergency relief effort would be paramount, and the ICRC would play a full part.

The disaster has split up families in the affected region and caused concern for families in other parts of Pakistan, and abroad, who had relatives in the earthquake zone. The ICRC has already set up a website to put families back in touch with each other. Web technology would be used by people of Pakistani origin, who lived in Britain for example, but on the ground, printed out lists would be used. At least seven tracing teams are planned.

 Logistics a key challenge  

Reto Meiste r said that the timing, with winter approaching, and the terrain, which was mountainous and contained many scattered communities, presented difficult logistic problems. Before the earthquake, the ICRC already had its delegation in Islamabad, a logistics base in Peshawar, and even a small office in Muzaffarabad that had only recently been opened. Now an additional logistics centre at Abbotabad was helping bring in large amounts of assistance from ICRC depots in Geneva, the Middle East, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. Staff numbers had grown dramatically within a week, 10,000m2 of additional warehousing had been rented and dozens of extra trucks were operating, he said. The British Red Cross had provided logistics staff for the ICRC operation.

 High level of cooperation  

The ICRC was leading the Red Cross and Red Crescent operation in Pakistan-administered Kashmir in cooperation with the Pakistan Red Crescent. It supports also the efforts of the Indian Red Cross in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies was working in other affected areas. Coordination between the two, said Reto Meister, was going well and duplications have been avoided as far as the logistic set-up in concerned in Pakistan . In the area mainly affected by the earthquake, the Pakistani authorities were also very supportive, providing access where there is a heavy military presence.