26 October 2005 The United Nations today nearly doubled its call for urgent funding to earthquake-ravaged Pakistan to $550 million for the initial six-month emergency period, warning that the current death toll of some 50,000 could double if aid is not immediately mobilized and delivered to those still isolated in the mountainous region.
“We meet today to prevent a second shockwave of deaths, and to prevent further suffering,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan told a ministerial-level donors’ conference in Geneva attended by more than 300 participants from 100 countries. The original Flash Appeal issued two weeks ago sought $312 million.
“For the next few days and weeks, we literally remain in the life-saving phase,” Mr. Annan said, referring to the injured in acute need of medical assistance, the more than 3 million left homeless, the thousands in towns and villages cut off by quake damage from the rest of the world, all while the harsh Himalayan winter approaches inexorably.
“That is why this catastrophe has given a new, all too human meaning to the concept of a race against time. I believe it is a race that can be won and must be won. But it will require a dramatic escalation on every front: more funding, more logistics, more manpower.”
As the scope and size of the 8 October tragedy becomes dramatically clearer, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is stressing the need for increased logistical air support to deliver life-saving supplies.
“It is essential to note that only a few weeks remain before the arrival of winter. Thousands of injured, dehydrated and undernourished survivors sheltering in fields in makeshift shelters or in the open air in temperatures below zero are likely to die unless they can be reached before the harsh mountain winter sets in,” OCHA warned.
The UN and its partners have now increased their estimate of people in need of immediate assistance to at least 1.6 to 2 million from 1 million. Those affected urgently require winterized shelter, medical care, food, and water and sanitation facilities, which must be delivered via commensurate logistics capacity and resources.
“Eighteen days after the earthquake, the unfolding picture reveals levels of human and economic devastation unprecedented in the history of the subcontinent,” OCHA said. “Hundreds of towns and villages have been completely destroyed… The earthquake destroyed most hospitals, schools, government buildings, and communications infrastructure. Additionally, many of the local officials needed for the immediate response fell victim to the disaster.”
Most roads and bridges have been destroyed and landslides have cut all access to some areas, leaving tens of thousands of people stranded in mountain valleys yet to be reached. Thousands of injured have not yet been treated and their injuries, although treatable, are likely to prove fatal if they are not reached within days, OCHA added.
While over 100 international organizations, including the UN search and rescue teams, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), European Union (EU), North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and bilateral partners immediately poured into the country, it is clear the response provided so far is inadequate, OCHA said.
More than two-thirds of the $238-million increase is attributable to the extraordinary logistical requirements imposed by the inaccessible terrain. Air support is required to move aid to those in need before the arrival of winter. Only $67 million have so far been received in contributions, meaning that the new amount is only 12 per cent funded.
“Every dollar, euro or yen committed today will save lives,” Mr. Annan told the meeting. “Every helicopter provided will rescue the injured, among them hundreds of children. Every shelter erected will save a family from the ravages of winter. Every bridge built between Pakistan and India will help reach those in need.”
Speaking to journalists after the conference, Mr. Annan said the current crisis underscored the very urgent need for a standing Global Revolving Fund, which he has previously stated could contain between $500 million and $1 billion. "We are asking for $550 million today. If we had had a Revolving Fund of, let us say $500 million, we could have started the operation immediately, then waited for contributions to come in.
"Now, without that Fund, we have to wait for the contributions to come in to be able to operate effectively. And I think some of you have heard me say that the way we are forced to operate is a bit like a fire station. You tell the fire chief you need a fire station, but we will build you one when the fire breaks," he added.
UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland said the disaster was unprecedented. "We have never had this kind of logistical nightmare, ever" due to the difficult terrain and approaching winter, he said.
Deputy UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Wendy Chamberlin reminded the gathering of Pakistan's nearly three decades of support for one of the world's biggest refugee populations – the millions who fled Afghanistan's wars and turmoil. "It's payback time," she said in prepared remarks. "Now we must stand by them."