Thousands of people could die from disease, diarrhea, and untreated injuries if the disaster-weary world does not help quake-ravaged Pakistan, UNICEF's chief warned yesterday during a helicopter tour of the region.
Ann Veneman said the window of opportunity to act is closing, with winter rolling rapidly toward the Himalayan mountains. Forecasters are predicting a colder-than-usual winter, with as much as 17 feet of snow in some places. Relief officials say about 800,000 quake survivors could face the frigid weather with no shelter.
''The fear is that we could lose thousands of people additionally to diarrhea, disease, and injuries that are not treated," Veneman said in an interview during the helicopter tour. ''It's absolutely urgent that as much aid gets in as possible. This is an area that will get much colder as the winter comes and the people are going to need shelter and blankets."
Some 80,000 people are believed to have died in the 7.6- magnitude quake on Oct. 8, and 3.3 million have been left homeless. Half the victims are believed to be children, according to UNICEF.
Despite dire warnings of a looming calamity, the United Nations has had difficulty raising money for quake victims. As of Friday, it had received only 20 percent of the $550 million it needs for the next six months. Officials have warned that the shortfall could force UN helicopters to stop flying as early as this week.
UNICEF controls $62 million of the aid pledge, but has so far received only $13.5 million.
Veneman, a former secretary of agriculture in the Bush administration, joined a chorus of voices calling on the world to act.
''Without urgent action, large numbers of children could die needlessly," she said, adding that she believed that aid has been slower to arrive because of the many natural calamities over the past year, including last December's tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.
''We've had disaster after disaster after disaster this year. The media hasn't given it as much attention," she said, expressing hope that funding would come through before winter.
Zobaida Jalal, Pakistan's minister of social welfare who accompanied Veneman on the trip, said the tragedy was unavoidable, but she called the crisis a test of the world's humanity.
''The earthquake was a natural calamity that nobody could do anything about, but if these people are allowed to die now, that would be more of a tragedy," she said. ''It will be on the consciences of many people and many governments forever."
Among the urgent needs are 600,000 tents to house the homeless and an equal number of latrines. According to UNICEF, communicable diseases are increasing tenfold daily in some areas. It said that more than 1,500 tons of human waste is entering the environment each day because of the 4 million people who must relieve themselves outdoors, a huge health risk in the coming weeks and months.
Veneman flew over the flattened northwestern town of Balakot before landing at a UN-supported relief camp in Garhi Habibullah where 2,200 survivors have taken shelter in row after row of canvas tents. At one temporary classroom, girls sang to her, while a boy drew pictures of his former house with crayons, reports Boston Globe. I.L.