Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Harsh Pakistan Winter Slows Quake Aid ; Snow, Ice, and Landslides Challenge Army and NGOs

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Harsh Pakistan Winter Slows Quake Aid ; Snow, Ice, and Landslides Challenge Army and NGOs

Article excerpt

It was his lunch hour, but Major Sherjeel had forsaken food and prayers to inspect the road to Pashto, a remote mountain hamlet among the worst hit by October's earthquake. What he found did not please him.

The road was little more than a muddied ledge thousands of feet above the Allai Valley that had caved in after a recent tremor, opening a chasm that no vehicle could pass. Shelter supplies - including life-saving sheets of corrugated iron - were now cut off from Pashto. And the sky was threatening snow again.

The road would take five days to repair, the major says. Many would have to shiver in tents in the meantime, or make do with other forms of inadequate shelter. "This is the third time we've had to do this, the third time in the same spot," says Sherjeel, a member of the Pakistan military's 104th Engineer Battalion. "There's no permanent solution."

The collapsing road to Pashto is a metaphor for winter relief operations in northern Pakistan. It demonstrates that, despite the dedication of people like Sherjeel, efforts to aid survivors at high altitudes remain precarious and fragile.

Relief workers and the Pakistan Army recently marked 100 days of operations since October's earthquake killed 86,000 and left more than 3 million homeless. Their progress has helped avert large- scale deaths due to the cold or outbreaks of communicable diseases.

Relief agencies warn the days ahead are likely to be tougher. Innumerable tents at higher altitudes have collapsed under the first snows, highlighting the need for more substantial shelter, while inclement weather has halted the distribution of relief goods by air and road.

Some camps, meanwhile, are nearly overflowing and relief agencies, including the United Nations and the World Food Program, complain of not having enough cash and hands to sufficiently oversee the relief.

"One hundred days into the process, all is not well. The survivors remain under threat," Jan Vandemoortele, humanitarian coordinator for the UN, said at a press conference in Islamabad. "The test is still on."

The crux of that test remains the 400,000 people living at higher altitudes, nearly 100,000 in the Allai Valley alone. The conditions in this valley, now a focal point of relief efforts, are typical of both the progress and problems of the post-quake scenario.

Abdul Wahab's temporary home is a refuge from the wintry slopes of Bana, the snow-covered capital of Allai Valley. His walls are three feet of stone, topped by three feet of wood planks, based on specifications provided by the Army and relief agencies. Corrugated galvanized iron (CGI) sheets serve as the roof, ensuring the structure is light, Sherjeel explains. "God forbid, if there's a tremor, people won't get as hurt."

A consortium of relief agencies, working with the military, has helped build more than 6,700 shelters like this in Allai Valley. …

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