MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan (AP) – Turkey”s prime minister made a record pledge to a faltering relief effort for the 3.3 million left homeless by South Asia”s monster quake on Friday, as survivors in distant mountains scrambled for aid before the harsh Himalayan winter closes in.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered US$150 million (¤124 million) in cash and aid, making Turkey the biggest single donor nation yet. On Thursday, the United Nations warned that it had so far funded only about a quarter of its flash appeal for the quake.
Officials estimate that at least 79,000 people died in the Oct. 8 temblor and 3.3 million were left homeless, many more than the number displaced by last December”s tsunami that hit Indonesia and other Asian countries, and in a mountainous region that poses much bigger logistical challenges for authorities.
"We will do whatever is possible to assist you in this crisis," Erdogan said in the capital of Pakistan”s part of Kashmir after surveying the ruins by helicopter with Pakistan”s Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.
In the remote settlement of Ghanool in neighboring North West Frontier Province, about 200 desperate villagers pushed and fought each other for milk, bread and biscuits brought in by mule train, the first aid to reach there since the quake. A helicopter carrying more supplies turned back after seeing the chaos below.
The numbers of seriously injured seeking medical attention was beginning to fall Friday, relief workers said, but villagers in the mountains were still crying out for tents to shelter from the frigid weather.
"It”s horrible," said Hanna Mattinen, from the aid group Action Against Hunger at the village of Paras, where 1,000 tents were required but only 150 had arrived, forcing men to sleep outside, while women and children shared the tents.
"The needs are just indescribable in terms of shelter," Mattinen said. U.N. relief coordinator Jan Egeland in Geneva on Thursday called on NATO countries to launch "a second Berlin airlift," referring to the nonstop flights by Western pilots into West Berlin in the late 1940s when Soviet forces sealed off the city.
"We have never had this kind of logistical nightmare ever. We thought the tsunami was the worst we could get. This is worse," he said. Egeland said that so far the U.N. had received only 27 percent of the US$312 million (¤261 million) of its flash appeal for quake relief, compared with 80 percent pledged within 10 days of a similar appeal to international donors after the tsunami.
NATO was expected on Friday to approve a dispatch of medics and military engineers to clear roads in the quake zone spanning from northwestern Pakistan into Indian”s part of divided Kashmir. But allied commanders are struggling to muster helicopters needed to carry aid into remote mountains. The United States, Germany, Japan and Afghanistan have already sent choppers.
Last December”s magnitude 9.0 quake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean killed more than 176,000 people and devastated coastal areas of several nations, sparking a huge aid effort, especially in worst-hit Indonesia. But the tsunami zone struck tropical areas where relief workers were not racing against cold weather.
In Kashmir, snow already has begun to fall in high mountains, and some villages face subzero temperatures at night, and aid workers fear casualties will rise because communities are without adequate food, shelter or health care.
Maj. Saqib Mahbub, who coordinates relief flights out of Mansehra district, said the number of seriously injured arriving from outlying villages for treatment had dropped from about 500 a day at the peak of the crisis, to about 100 now.
But Medecins Sans Frontieres warned that even minor injuries that are left untreated could become infected and pose a major danger. "Every case now left behind is becoming a very serious case now," said Krist Tierlinck, the group”s emergency coordinator for Bagh in Kashmir.
Abdur Rehman, a 27-year old farmer, only managed to bring his mother for treatment for two broken limbs on Friday. It took villagers more than eight days to clear a way through a landslide so the stretcher-bearers could reach the nearest health post at Paras, he said.
The army started shifting rubble from Muzaffarabad. Spokesman Lt. Col. Rana Sajjad said the ruined city had been divided in 13 sectors to organize the process, to make it livable again and pave the way for reconstruction.
Twenty-three bodies were retrieved from collapsed buildings in the city on Thursday and buried in a mass grave, he said.
The World Health Organization cited 17 cases of tetanus in the quake zone, three of them resulting in deaths in the town of Balakot in North West Frontier Province.
A WHO team was trying to immunize as many people as possible against the bacterial infection that is found in the ground and feces, and enters the body through cuts and scratches.
The Pakistani government”s official toll is 49,739 dead and more than 74,000 injured, but central figures have lagged behind regional numbers. The regional figures, from officials in Pakistan”s North West Frontier Province and the Pakistani-controlled portion of Kashmir, add up to about 78,000. India reported 1,360 deaths in its part of Kashmir.