Most of the tents given to survivors of the South Asian earthquake may not be able to withstand the potentially deadly Himalayan winter, senior aid officials warned Friday. Darren Boisvert, an aid official in charge of distributing shelter in the quake zone, said that 420,000 tents have been handed out, but "90 percent are not winterized."
Temperatures in the high mountains of Pakistani-held Kashmir and the North West Frontier Province have already dipped to below freezing, heaping more misery on the millions of people who lost their homes in the Oct. 8 temblor. Light snow has already fallen in some areas, and heavier storms are expected in the coming weeks.
The top U.N. official coordinating the relief effort, Jan Vandemoortele, speaking at the same news conference, acknowledged the problem is serious, but stressed that the non-winterized tents are still useful, noting that they can be reinforced with blankets or sheeting to slow the escape of heat and can also be used to shelter livestock or store food.
"It's not an either-or," he said. "Non-winterized doesn't mean inadequate." Boisvert, spokesman for International Organization on Migration, said relief efforts have focused on getting the sturdiest tents to people in the highest mountain villages, rather than the hundreds of thousands in refugee camps lower down.
He said 5,000 tents that are fully winterized have been distributed to those above the snow line, and another 5,000 will be distributed by Dec. 12. He also stressed the need to move away from tents altogether and distribute corrugated iron sheets to build better shelters.
"After Oct. 8, hundreds of NGOs and aid organizations provided shelter. They brought in hundreds of thousands of tents for immediate relief," he said. But he added that most of those tents were not for winter use. "Winterized tents are expensive, they are hard to procure, and must be shipped from overseas." Some 86,000 people are estimated to have died in Pakistan in the 7.6-magnitude quake, while another 1,350 died in India, reports the AP. I.L.