MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) -Efforts to reach stranded villagers in Pakistan”s northern mountains gathered pace on Monday after the country”s friends and foes both urged help for up to 3 million survivors rattled by fresh aftershocks.
One on Sunday evening, at magnitude 6.0, was among the strongest of nearly 900 recorded since the October 8 quake, but there were no reports of new deaths.
Equally important, there were no reports of major landslides in the rugged hills where army engineers are working around the clock to reopen roads destroyed in the quake which killed at least 53,000 people and left more than 75,000 injured seriously.
Only when the roads are rebuilt — and in some cases this could take weeks — can aid be delivered in sufficient quantities to an estimated 2,000 still unreached villages to allow hundreds of thousands of people to survive the rapidly approaching winter.
The fleet of aid helicopters, although growing, cannot reach them all, or deliver sufficient supplies to the worst-hit areas of Pakistani Kashmir and adjacent North West Frontier Province.
In Rajkot, a two-day trek from the destroyed Pakistani Kashmir capital of Muzaffarabad but just a 10-minute helicopter ride, Farid Ayub complained it took 13 days for any aid at all to reach his village.
Aid officials complain the world is being very slow in coming up with the money needed to help up to 3 million homeless people who must be sheltered and fed through the winter. The first heavy snows are just five or six weeks away.
But aid is flowing in faster, said chief United Nations aid coordinator Rashid Khalikov, two days before rich countries were to meet in Geneva to discuss help for Pakistan.
"The amounts are increasing — tents, food, non-food items," he said.
Much more is still needed, and Khalikov said the U.N. was talking to NATO about what it might provide — "everything from excavators to gloves" — in addition to an engineering battalion and medical teams already promised.
Time is short, with night temperatures already below freezing in the hills.
India has offered to open three relief camps on the heavily militarised divide in Kashmir, over which it has fought two of its three wars with Pakistan, which has proposed opening five crossing points to help aid reach the desperate.
But there has been no word yet on when the two nuclear-armed rivals will translate words into action.
U.S. General John Abizaid promised that the United States would send more helicopters, while al Qaeda”s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahri, urged Muslims to help even though Pakistan”s government was a U.S. "agent."
"The international community needs to continue to help and you can certainly count on the United States to continue to help as well," Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command, said after flying over the disaster area.
"Today we provided two more heavy-lift helicopters that can come over from Afghanistan," he told reporters.
"We”ve got about 13 more that are over there that are coming forward. We will eventually get about 25 more over here. We are bringing in as much as we can."
Underscoring the desperate need for more helicopters, Abizaid took several injured survivors, including a girl paralyzed by a broken back, to Islamabad on his helicopter.
"As of now, I cannot say there will be a point when we say ”No more helicopters”. In some operations, we say ”No more field hospitals, no more search and rescue teams”. We are not anywhere close to that yet," Khalikov said.
While Pakistan”s main ally promised more help, a bespectacled Zawahri, wearing a white turban and seated beside an assault rifle, denounced Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in a tape aired on Al Jazeera television.
But he urged help for quake survivors.
The most urgent need is shelter. An aid official said 540,000 tents were needed but with global supplies limited, there could be a shortage of up to 200,000.
"I call on all Muslims and Islamic charity organizations in particular to go to Pakistan and give a helping hand to the victims there," said Zawahri, the Egyptian right-hand man of Osama bin Laden.
Washington has accused a number of Islamic charities of funneling funds to Muslim militants.
Zawahri and bin Laden, believed to be hiding somewhere along the rugged Pakistani-Afghan border, have eluded capture since al-Qaeda”s September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.