Pakistani earthquake victims still face urgent survival needs nearly six weeks after the disaster, aid groups warned, as donors began gathering Friday for a major conference on funding quake reconstruction. Snow is already falling in the quake zone in the country's mountainous north and time is fast running out to prevent a second wave of deaths from exposure, hunger and disease, six of the world's largest aid relief organizations said in a joint appeal.
"We have the chance to save thousands of lives, but the world community must act now," said Cassandra Nelson, emergency spokeswoman for U.S.-based charity Mercy Corps. "This response needs more money." Amid high security, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was set to visit quake-hit areas in the Pakistan-controlled section of Kashmir on Friday before attending Saturday's conference in Islamabad.
Arriving in Pakistan on Thursday, Annan said he expected both governments and private-sector donors to "be generous, to give and give willingly."
"We need more resources, not just for the emergency, but recovery and reconstruction," Annan said, appealing to governments, the private sector and individual donors to contribute.
The Oct. 8 magnitude-7.6 quake left more than 87,000 dead, mostly in Pakistani Kashmir. About 1,350 died in India's portion of the Himalayan territory, which is claimed in its entirety by both countries but divided between them by a cease-fire line.
Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has appealed for more than US$5 billion (Ђ4.3 billion) in reconstruction and relief aid, and the U.N. is stressing the need for more financial support to sustain its emergency relief effort through the winter.
However, the U.N. has so far received cash donations of only US$119 million (Ђ102 million), with another US$40 million (Ђ34.3 million) in pledges, out of US$550 million (Ђ470 million) it has been seeking since last month to finance emergency relief over six months.
The quake destroyed the homes of about 3 million people, leaving hundreds of thousands living in flimsy tents. An unknown number have no shelter at all, although the country's top relief official, Maj. Gen. Farooq Ahmed Khan, said Thursday that aid had been delivered to almost all those affected.
Also Thursday, Musharraf called U.S. President George W. Bush in Busan, South Korea, to inform him about Pakistan's need for U.S. and other international assistance.
Bush "promised that he would look at ways to help" with assistance from the government and private sector, said Mike Green, senior director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council. Among the most pressing needs are for warmer shelters to guard against nighttime temperatures that can drop to minus 12 degrees Celsius (10 Fahrenheit), aid groups said.
Exposure to cold weather is resulting in a rising number of acute respiratory infections, while bad water and sanitation produce thousands of cases a day of diarrhea, the skin infestation scabies and other communicable diseases, the groups said.
Infants and children, more than 2.2 million of whom were affected by the quake, are most at risk, they said, reports the AP. I.L.