MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) -United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan visited earthquake-hit Kashmir on Friday to highlight the misery of people living in the disaster zone and Pakistan”s dire need for over $5 billion of world aid.
Brought by helicopter, Annan and President Pervez Musharraf
saw from the air some of the miserable tent villages sheltering thousands of families in the ruins of Muzaffarabad, before visiting one on the outskirts.
"I have been impressed by what I have seen…and depressed," Annan told a news conference at the camp of 2,000 tents on a river bank, ringed by mountains.
"Depressed by the number of the houses that have been destroyed and that need to be rebuilt, but impressed by the level of cooperation and determination."
Accompanied by their wives, Annan and Musharraf also saw medical staff administering anti-polio drops and measles jabs, as part of a massive vaccination campaign to ward off the threat of disease.
Soldiers toting automatic weapons watched from rooftops and routes used by the U.N. chief and the Pakistani president were closed as part of a massive security operation to guard against terrorism.
Police halted about 50 marchers from a Kashmir independence party, that wants the disputed region free of both Pakistani and Indian control, but there was no trouble.
With the Himalayan winter closing in, Musharraf and Annan say donor nations should dig deeper to fund a relief effort more daunting than even Asia”s tsunami.
"We often talk of tsunami, and we did because it did kill so many people and affected so many countries," Annan said.
"But you look at the terrain here and logistical challenges which have to be overcome in order to get aid to the people — it is really, really a gigantic task we have ahead of us."
The October 8 tremor killed more than 73,000 people in Pakistan, left around 500,000 homeless and affected around 3.3 million people, many living in the mountains of Kashmir and North West Frontier Province where helicopters are often the only way to deliver badly needed shelter and food.
The Indian side of Kashmir escaped relatively lightly, with 1,300 people killed.
At a news conference in Islamabad, Asian Development Bank President Haruhiko Kuroda said $1.7 billion was needed urgently, and governments have given only a fraction of the $550 million the United Nations asked for in a flash appeal.
International aid agencies say more people will die unless they get additional funds.
"I do foresee an increased mortality rate," said Keith Ursel of the U.N. World Food Programme in Muzaffarabad.
"I”m not giving a panicked view of mass death. However, insufficient balanced food will lead to increased mortality," he said, adding that uncertainty about whether funds would be available made it hard to plan.
On Saturday, Annan and multilateral aid agencies will attend a world donors” conference in the Pakistani capital Islamabad where Musharraf hopes to close the funding gap.
"Total transparency and accountability will be ensured for every penny that we get," Musharraf told the news conference, adding that independent foreign auditors would be used.
The cost of providing relief, rebuilding houses, schools, hospitals, the region”s civic administration and roads, and restoring people”s livelihoods has been put at $5.2 billion.
So far, Pakistan has received pledges covering the relief element, but barely denting the long haul needs.
"For the long term, it begins tomorrow," said Annan of his hopes for a successful donor”s meeting.
On Friday, British International Development Minister Gareth Thomas said his government was pledging an extra $120 million, taking Britain”s overall contribution up to $176 million.
ADB officials say the bank had lined up $405 million in aid, but details would be given at Saturday”s conference.