Remote Areas in Pakistan Still in Need of Supplies

Pakistan's army and private relief groups are sending food, medicine and shelter materials to sites struck by Saturday's earthquake, but few supplies have yet reached remote areas. The official death toll in Pakistan stands at about 23,000, but many bodies still lie buried in the hardest-hit regions.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And turning now to Pakistan, relief operations are finally gathering steam in northern Pakistan following last weekend's earthquake. The official death toll there stands at 23,000. Many bodies still lie buried in the rubble of towns and villages in the mountainous region, hardest hit by the quake. The army and private relief groups are sending food, medicine and shelter materials to the quake zone. Few supplies have yet reached remote areas that are, for now, accessible only by helicopter.

NPR's Michael Sullivan joins us now from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

And, Michael, what is the status of the rescue and relief operations?

MICHAEL SULLIVAN reporting:

Well, Renee, I think things are going a lot better today than they were going yesterday, and that's because the weather has improved today. Yesterday, towards the end of the day, some bad weather moved in and they simply couldn't get all the helicopters in where they needed to. And today, they're doing a much better job at doing that. And they're also doing a much better job at clearing up many of these roads that were closed due to landslide or other damage that was caused by the earthquake. And when you clear the roads, then it's much easier to get in the supplies that you need for these people who have been left homeless and many of whom are injured.

MONTAGNE: Now I just stated a number, 23,000 estimated dead. That is the latest estimate of all those killed in the quake?

SULLIVAN: UN officials here are saying roughly the same thing as what Pakistani officials are saying, and that's roughly 23,000 dead with another 48,000 injured with a staggering four million people affected by the quake and roughly a million of those what the UN calls acutely affected, having lost their homes, their livelihoods. A Pakistani army general, the one who is in charge of the relief effort in the northern area, says there's an estimated 10,000 dead in Muzaffarabad alone. But he cautions that's a rough estimate, could go up and probably will go up a lot higher. And that's just in Muzaffarabad. We don't know what's happening farther up in the Jhelum and the Neelum valleys.

MONTAGNE: Michael, for the past few days, we've been hearing that many survivors of this really terrible quake are angry over what they feel was an inadequate response by the Pakistani government. How about the rest of the country? How are they--you know, other Pakistanis viewing this, and how are they commenting on the--you know, what are they saying that the government is doing or not doing?

SULLIVAN: Renee, I think everyone here understands that what happened was absolutely terrible and that the Kashmirians who were the most affected have every right to be frustrated by the fact that they are not getting what they think is timely relief. But at the same time, I think that many people here in Islamabad and in Lahore, where I was this morning, and all over the country are actually pulling together. They're donating money, they're donating clothes, they're donating food. And they're getting things together to send to the people there. There's a feeling of goodwill like we have to help our fellow Pakistanis. And oddly enough, the political opposition here, which oftentimes just will go after General Musharraf at the slightest drop of a hat, they're not really doing that this time around. The leader of the main opposition parties are--the leaders are saying that, you know, we do have to pull together. This is a difficult time. Finger-pointing can come later. Let's just do what we can do right now to help the people on the ground.

MONTAGNE: And turning to a somewhat different subject, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is making a brief visit to Pakistan today to meet with President Musharraf. What is on her agenda? And it doesn't appear to include touring earthquake-damaged areas.

SULLIVAN: No, but I think it's clear that Secretary of State Rice is here today in Islamabad to underscore the US concern and the US willingness to help a country that the US has, ever since 9/11, called a key ally in the war on terror. And that's helped not just with helicopters, which are badly needed and helicopters that did start arriving yesterday, but with logistics and additional aid. And at the airport today, Pakistani officials were saying that they welcome the US helicopters; the more, the better they said because they're much appreciated, they're badly needed and they were in action again today for the second straight day. So US helicopters are definitely welcome. I'm sure Secretary of State Rice's visit today and the promise of more aid is also very welcome here.

MONTAGNE: Michael, thanks very much. NPR's Michael Sullivan speaking from the Pakistani capital Islamabad.

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