Nato forces were setting up winter shelters high in the mountains of Pakistan’s earthquake zone today, as doctors rushed to immunise children against measles and other diseases before snows cut off remote areas.
Working with Pakistan’s army, Nato teams planned to operate at altitudes above 1,500 meters (5,000 feet) for as long as weather allowed, Nato said in a news release.
The wood and metal shelters are designed to provide better protection from the harsh Himalayan winter than the tents now being distributed.
“We are sending these teams up the mountains to reach those most vulnerable to the bitter winter weather rapidly descending there,” the commander of the Nato relief team, Air Commodore Andrew Walton, was quoted as saying.
More than 86,000 people died in the 7.6 magnitude temblor that struck October 8. Hundreds of thousands remain without shelter as overnight temperatures begin to drop toward freezing.
Weather was clear and sunny today in Muzaffarabad, near the quake’s epicentre, but snow has already begun falling on mountain villages higher up.
Four Nato helicopters are flying alongside those from the US, Britain and international aid agencies as part of an air bridge carrying food, shelter and medical aid to quake survivors in remote areas.
Further worrying emergency workers, at least 21 people died in a pair of bus crashes in the quake zone yesterday. Police said the accidents were still under investigation, but said such frequently overcrowded and poorly maintained vehicles have been speeding and carrying more passengers than usual to take advantage of increased demand.
Many roads in the Muzaffarabad area were blocked by landslides sparked by the quake or simply disappeared over the sides of cliffs, making land travel in the area extremely dangerous.
Meanwhile, UN and Pakistani teams over the weekend launched a crash campaign to vaccinate about 1.2 million children under age 15 in remote parts of the quake area against measles, diphtheria, polio and other illnesses.
However, Edward Hoekstra, a senior health adviser for UNICEF who was overseeing the program, said another 4 million dollars was needed to complete the program over the next 2-3 weeks.
Without that “we will not be able to complete the whole activity, which means large numbers of vulnerable children will remain unprotected,” Hoekstra said during a visit today to villages on the outskirts of Muzaffarabad.
“Assistance is not now at a level that we expect,” Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said in an interview with CNN broadcast Monday.
Also yesterday, the US State Department’s top official for public diplomacy, Karen Hughes, was leading a delegation on a tour of the quake area in a bid to boost private and corporate giving for reconstruction.