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The focus on the most remote communities in earthquake-hit Kashmir is overshadowing the danger thousands of people face in a growing number of camps, international aid agency Oxfam said today.
As winter approaches, tens of thousands of people are set to move temporary camps. Many of them sit on floodplains with inadequate water and sanitation facilities. Because the camps are densely crowded, an outbreak of disease could result in many more deaths than are likely to occur in isolated villages.
“Unless conditions are improved in these camps, diseases like cholera could spread like wildfire,” said Jane Cocking, who is leading Oxfam's emergency response in Pakistan. "The thousands of people living in remote villages are in serious danger, especially once the snows come, but the plight of those who are living in camps has not received the same attention. If disease does break out in the camps, the number of deaths could far exceed those in danger in their villages."
With thousands of people already living in squalid camp conditions and tens of thousands more set to join them, Oxfam is calling for donor countries to pay equal attention to the camps and the villages.
The United Nations estimates that three million people are now homeless in Pakistan as a result of the earthquake. Tens of thousands of people living in remote villages are making their way to towns such as Muzaffarabad, where their arrival threatens to overwhelm the makeshift camps.
The UN has called on the international community to provide $550 million to respond to the urgent needs of survivors. Yet nearly a month after the devastating earthquake, governments have committed to only about 20 percent of that request.
>"We could soon see as many people dying from cold and disease as perished in the initial earthquake,” said Cocking. “There is no doubt that large numbers of vulnerable people are facing certain death unless the international community steps up its response to this disaster.”
Oxfam is rapidly scaling up its water and sanitation operations. Oxfam engineers have already restored a supply of clean water to almost 100,000 people in some of the worst-affected areas, and plan to provide water to an additional 500,000.
At hospitals in Hazaram, north of Muzaffarabad, and Hazara, Oxfam is providing water and sanitation services, including latrines and bathing facilities. In Balakot, one of the worst-hit areas close to the quake’s epicenter, the agency is providing assistance in five camps where it is working on latrines and fixing pipelines that bring water from the mountains.
Oxfam continues to distribute aid, including thermal tents, blankets, plastic sheeting, and woolen sheets that in the past few days have reached 43,000 people in Masehra, Abbotabad, Shangla, Muzaffarabad, and Dheer Khot. An Oxfam helicopter has been distributing relief supplies to remote mountain villages including Gunta in the Allai Valley, home to an estimated 100,000 people.