November 2, 2008 / 2:04 PM / 11 years ago

Pakistani quake surviors beg for shelter from cold

By Gul Yousafzai

WAM KHAZI, Pakistan, Nov 2 (Reuters) - Villagers in a southwest Pakistani region hit by a powerful earthquake demanded shelter on Sunday saying they need help before a bitter winter sets in or their children could die.

The 6.4 magnitude quake struck Baluchistan, Pakistan’s largest but poorest province on Wednesday, destroying or damaging thousands of mud homes and killing at least 215 people.

The epicentre was in Ziarat district, a picturesque valley framed by mountains and one of the region’s main tourist spots. But night-time temperatures in the relatively high-altitude area are falling below freezing.

"We’ve got food, we’ve got relief, but we don’t have tents which can save our children from the cold," said Rehmat Kakar, a 70-year-old farmer standing by the rubble of his house in Wam Khazi village.

"We want those tents urgently. Please save our children, don’t let them die," said Kakar, who said that four of his seven children were killed in the quake.

The disaster struck just over three years after 73,000 people were killed by a 7.6 magnitude quake hit Pakistan’s northern mountains. Last year, the worst floods on record in Baluchistan killed hundreds.

Scores of aftershocks, some nearly as strong as the original quake, have jolted the region since Wednesday.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), one of several organisations helping with relief, appealed for $7.7 million to step up its emergency operations.

"Our priority will be to provide shelter as winter sets in," said Pascal Cuttat, head of the ICRC delegation in Islamabad.

"Because of continuing aftershocks, many people decided to sleep outdoors at altitudes of 2,000 to 2,500 metres (6,500-8,200 feet)," he said.



"GIVE US THE MONEY"

Another villager said with winter just weeks away, government aid efforts would be too slow.

"They should just give us money and let us rebuild our own houses," said Abdul Wahid.

There have been no reports of outbreaks of disease since the quake but aid officials say without proper shelter, people, especially children, will be vulnerable to common health risks.

A doctor from the paramilitary Frontier Corps helping with the relief effort said he was seeing many people, most of them children, with upper respiratory tract infections.

"We’re receiving about 100 patients daily and the number may go up in coming weeks because of the cold," said the doctor, Usman Ahmed, in a clinic set up in Wam Khazi.

"Medical facilities are here but we need to do something urgently to keep people warm," he said.

The quake is one more headache for a government struggling with a balance of payments crisis and a surge of militant violence, but allies have promised help.

Saudi Arabia is giving $100 million while the United States and China had promised $1 million each for rehabilitation work.

Japan and several other countries had also promised help while the World Health Organisation said it was sending two truckloads of essential medicines and supplies.

The World Food Programme said it would provide 700 tonnes of dry food rations in initial relief supplies for an estimated 20,000 homeless.

But one aid group complained of poor coordination.

"There’s duplication, like two agencies doing similar jobs in the same place," said Hafizullah Khan of the Muslim Hands international aid group. (Writing by Kamran Haider; Editing by Robert Birsel and Sami Aboudi)



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