- The Washington Times - Friday, October 28, 2005

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan — The United Nations reacted with bafflement and dismay yesterday at the world’s failure to come up with quick cash to help save hundreds of thousands of Pakistani quake survivors before winter sets in.

Relief workers were only a few days away from grounding the vital helicopter fleet, which is the only way to get help quickly to the remote mountain villages flattened by the Oct. 8 quake, which killed more than 53,000 people, one U.N. official said.

“When the money runs out, the choppers stay on the ground and that’s what’s going to start happening in the next couple of days,” Robert Smith told a Geneva press conference a day after a major conference failed to produce significant cash.

The United Nations aimed to raise $550 million at the conference Wednesday. It received a meager $16 million.

Some aid agencies already were out of money, and others were juggling budgets desperately to try to cope, aid officials said.

“We are still of the view that the international community lacks full comprehension of the catastrophe that is looming large,” U.N. chief aid coordinator Rashid Khalikov said in the destroyed town of Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.

“We are talking life,” he said, with the harsh Himalayan winter just weeks away and countless people still living in rubble.

“It may sound strange that we are still talking lifesaving two weeks after the disaster,” Mr. Khalikov said.

U.N. officials had hoped for a day-after surge of donations from the conference, but recorded only $2 million in net new pledges yesterday, taking the total to $113 million.

Because much of the money was earmarked for specific uses, even that left critical aid areas short of funds, a U.N. spokeswoman said.

Relief workers fear that as many people will die of hunger and exposure during the bitter winter as in the quake, which also injured more than 75,000 people seriously in Pakistan and killed 1,300 in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Winter will descend in four weeks. By then, about 3 million people will need to find shelter and have food stockpiled to see them through the harsh season.

It is an operation that analysts say is more difficult than the one after the Dec. 26 Indian Ocean tsunami, a disaster that prompted a torrent of aid.

Underlining the magnitude of the task, bad weather in the mountains grounded the helicopter fleet at the main air base near Islamabad on Wednesday and for part of yesterday, leaving only mules and people to carry supplies into the hills.

The few roads into the mountains have been blocked by landslides or swept away. Some will take weeks to repair, leaving helicopters as the main means of delivering food and shelter.

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