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Winter bears down on earthquake survivors

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey, ACT

Women clean dishes at a tent city outside Balakot, Pakistan.
Jan. 25, 2006

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*

As predicted, winter weather has made life more difficult for the survivors of the Oct. 8 South Asia earthquake.

Church World Service, Action by Churches Together, Norwegian Church Aid and other nongovernmental organizations continue to work with survivors, particularly in hard-hit northern Pakistan and Kashmir. The United Methodist Committee on Relief has assisted through CWS, International Blue Crescent, Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action and other groups.

Usman Adam, who works in the information department at CWS Pakistan, reported in mid-January that distribution of relief supplies is continuing, along with the psychosocial ministries and training programs.

“Teams are also out to monitor and assess needs of remote populations,” he told United Methodist News Service.

The earthquake is believed to have killed at least 73,000 — some estimates are higher — and displaced about 3 million people.

Health problems are expected to increase because of the weather, Adam said. In addition, “the overwhelming majority of the shelter is still not winterized, and rain and snow are causing further road blockages and landslides.”

In a Jan. 6 situation report, the three agencies noted that “among the roughly 2.2 million people still living in tents or in makeshift shelters, several hundred thousand found themselves completely isolated again, lacking food and material to resist the winter and the abundant snow. The U.N. estimates that as many as 400,000 people are in higher areas where it is feared that snow and rain will make it harder for helicopters and trucks to reach them.”

Inclement weather prevented former President George H.W. Bush, serving as the U.N. special envoy for the South Asian Earthquake Disaster, from traveling by helicopter to Muzzafarabad on Jan. 16.

Instead, after spending the night at a camp for survivors in Islamabad, Bush expressed admiration for the spirit of the survivors and stressed the need to keep supply lines open during the harsh winter, according to U.N. reports.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey, ACT

Children huddle together in a tent city sponsored by Church World Service/Action by Churches Together.
A Jan. 20 situation report from CWS/ACT/NCA showed that 839,997 winterized tents had been distributed, along with plastic sheeting and blankets. A total of 115,883 shelters had been built above 5,000 feet, with another 158,076 shelters built in lower elevations.

“The major challenge with regards to camp management at this time is the service and food delivery to spontaneous camps,” the report said.

The Pakistan Army also has built shelters and is “working round the clock in affected areas of Mansehra, Battagram, Kohistan and Shangla districts to save quake survivors from severe cold.” More than two feet of snow in higher elevations and drenching rains in the foothills have made the work more difficult and disrupted helicopter flights.

CWS itself has distributed 19,000 tents and 6,130 sheets in the past three months, along with nearly 43,000 sweaters and blankets recently received from ACT members.

Marvin Parvez, director of CWS Pakistan/Afghanistan, told ACT that relief teams had noticed children were lacking hats, shoes and socks, particularly in remote areas. Norwegian Church Aid has sent funds for CWS to purchase and distribute some of these items.

UMCOR has helped fund the work of the International Blue Crescent in four mountain villages of the Bagh district, according to David Sadoo, international field staff with UMCOR. The agency is providing winterized shelter and latrines for 150 families in 10 small tented settlements. It also is establishing and equipping 10 tented schools/children’s centers and 10 tented basic health centers in the settlements.

Although the earthquake survivors are still preoccupied with the harsh weather, some are beginning to look ahead. According to Parvez, the CWS/NCA psychosocial team is starting to talk with camp residents about home reconstruction and moving back to their villages.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey, ACT

A Pakistan Army helicopter is used to ferry supplies provided by Church World Service/Action by Churches Together to the village of Gantar.
The psychosocial team has provided support to survivors on a wide range of issues. Recently, the team conducted meetings in the Shohal Najaf and Hassa camps. “During these meetings, the main focus of discussion was problems faced by people residing in the tents due to the recent wave of cold weather,” the Jan. 20 report said.

A health and hygiene team also met with young women and adolescent girls in Shohal Najaf to address specific hygiene issues.

CWS/NCA teams have assessed damages to camp latrines and drainage systems caused by recent snow; are assessing needs for additional capacity in the Maira camp; and introduced the hygiene program to residents of the Kund camp.

In Kashmir, Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action, supported by UMCOR, targeted 6,575 of the most affected families in the Uri and Tangdhar sector, with 2,900 of those families to be covered by partner churches or NGOs. These areas had villages that were either completely or partially damaged. Initial relief went to 1,000 families in the form of blankets, woolen clothing, tarpaulins and utensil sets. Tin sheets for shelters and coal/wood-burning heaters called “bukharis” were distributed later.

According to CASA, beneficiaries “belong to rural areas and pursue diverse livelihood activities, including agriculture, agrarian activities, petty trade, artisanship, labor (mainly agriculture) etc. Women and children are a priority concern for CASA, and we feel that the provision of individual family shelters would go a long way in reducing their vulnerability.”

UMCOR also assisted Ludhiana Christian Medical College with medical relief work in Kashmir. As of Dec. 20, the college reported, outreach teams had treated 4,308 patients in 22 villages. In addition to numerous orthopedic injuries, earthquake survivors complained of head and body aches, upper and lower respiratory tract infections and fevers, acid peptic diseases, diarrhea and worm infestations, and skin and eye diseases.

The relief agency is encouraging United Methodists to continue contributing to the relief effort. As of the end of November, UMCOR had received $373,355 for earthquake relief. Year-end totals are not yet available from the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, UMCOR’s parent agency.

Donations to the United Methodist relief effort can be marked for “UMCOR Advance #232000, Pakistan Earthquake,” and placed in church offering plates or sent to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, N.Y. 10087-9068. Contributions also can be made by phone at (800) 554-8583 or online at If funds are intended for recovery in a specific region, that should be noted. More information is available at

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

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