Five weeks after a devastating earthquake hit northern Pakistan, the relief effort is still seriously short of funds, warns Oxfam.
With snow now falling in Kashmir, people are pouring out of the mountains at a rate of at least 1,500 a day. Their arrival is threatening to overwhelm an already stretched relief operation in the valleys.
"Oxfam is calling on countries to make good on their pledges of aid so that humanitarian agencies can alleviate the suffering of the survivors and help them stay alive this winter", said Jane Cocking, Oxfam's humanitarian coordinator for Pakistan. "The relief machine is now in place. This is the time to make sure it is fully fueled to see the people through the winter."
The United Nations has received only $119 million of the $550 million it requested for the emergency. An additional $40 million has been pledged.
Despite appeals, the UN World Food Program, which is now feeding 800,000 people, has only enough supplies to last through December, and it does not have enough delivery trucks.
Furthermore, the UN’s logistical division, which includes the trucks and helicopters that deliver food, shelter materials, and sanitation facilities to the devastated communities, could run out of funds this month. The air operation has only received $21 million of the $100 million requested.
If the UN's fleet of 19 helicopters is grounded, that will stop the flow of tents, blankets, sleeping bags, stoves, lanterns, and kitchen equipment to tens of thousands of vulnerable people high in the mountains. Without those supplies, mountain villagers will abandon their homes and join the flood of displaced people arriving in the valley towns.
"Our water and sanitation teams have already helped 80,000 people in the hundreds of camps for the displaced," said Cocking. "We're on course to set up 20,000 winterized tents. As this work continues, we must ensure that the delivery of aid by the UN and Pakistani government is properly funded and also done according to the internationally agreed standards, respecting people’s rights."
Oxfam is urging the international community to heed the lessons of this crisis and many others and contribute to a $1 billion UN global emergency fund. The fund would enable the UN to respond to humanitarian crises swiftly and effectively without having to wait for donor governments to make funding decisions that often come too late for many people.
"Once again the lack of a properly resourced UN emergency fund is putting thousands of lives at risk," said Cocking. "It is vital that UN member states agree to set up a well-funded UN global emergency fund in order to respond to disasters such as this so that people's lives can be saved immediately. At the same time, the UN needs to ensure that money is being spent effectively and that it has its best people working on the ground to respond to this disaster."
Oxfam is also concerned about the future of earthquake survivors. As people leave their ruined homes to seek shelter and aid, many of them have had to abandon or slaughter their livestock, which will make it harder for them to return next spring and start over. Often, the animals represent a family’s principal savings and means of earning a living. Already, the price of cows in the livestock markets has plummeted from $400 a head to $100.