Pakistan quake victims need heating as snow forecast


MUZAFFARABAD. (AFP) - Snow is forecast to hit quake-battered northern Pakistan in coming days and the United Nations warned that survivors urgently need heating to get through the winter alive.

Throughout the four weeks since the October 8 disaster aid officials have repeatedly warned of a second wave of deaths when the Himalayan winter begins, adding to the current toll of more than 73,000. "We have to focus now on the next big problem which will be heating," Jan Vandemoortele, the United Nations Emergency Coordinator in Pakistan, told AFP in an interview on Saturday. "We have been talking a lot about shelter and tents, and this has resulted in good action on the ground. But heating has not been very visible," added the Belgian. Many of the three million left homeless by the quake need gas, kerosene and efficient wood stoves to cook and stave off the cold, and aid workers need to get "everything we can possibly lay our hands on", he said. Vandemoortele also hailed Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf`s decision to delay the purchase of US-built F-16 jet fighters, saying it will free up money for aid. But he said the world still needs to donate more. The United Nations has launched an emergency appeal for 550 million dollars but has only received 135 million so far, which may not be enough to keep UN aid helicopters in the air. Forecasts from the Pakistani Meteorological Department added to the urgency in the quake zone. It warned on its website of widespread snow next week in mountains and valleys over 5,000 feet (1,524 metres), which includes towns and villages in the hills around Muzaffarabad and around the destroyed city of Balakot in northern Pakistan. Temperatures could drop to minus 12 Celsius (10 F) in the highest settlements, it added. Snows have already coated some mountaintops but they are mainly above 11,000 feet and are barely inhabited. Army Brigadier Ghazanfar Ali told AFP in Muzaffarabad, the devastated capital of Pakistani Kashmir, that more people could die if the need for heating is not addressed quickly. "There is less awareness about the heating requirement but many of the areas receive huge snowfall and are at more than 5,000 feet altitude so this is one of the urgent requirements," Ali said. "We need at least 200,000 oil heaters which will provide respite to the survivors for the time being. Pakistan and the international community should pay immediate attention or the survivors may die of harsh weather." Aid agencies are still racing against time to get relief supplies to the most remote mountain hamlets hit by the quake, some of which have still not had any aid because they are too difficult to get to. British charity Oxfam warned that squalid conditions and disease in camps for Pakistani quake victims could kill thousands more people, far exceeding the toll in villages that have been the focus so far. Musharraf toured Muzaffarabad on Friday and also accused the West of double standards for failing to meet the country`s quake aid needs, saying it was more interested in the Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed at least 217,000, and Hurricane Katrina in the United States. British International Development Minister Hilary Benn on Friday blasted the world`s response to the devastating Kashmir earthquake, as did Yusuf Islam, the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens. The criticism came while Pakistan and India prepared to open five crossing points on Monday along the military frontier in Kashmir, which is divided between the two long-term foes. But details of how the security conscious rivals planned to let Kashmiris over the so-called Line of Control remained unclear, with India saying only three points will open and Pakistan saying all five would, as planned.

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