Weather Hampers Relief Efforts in Pakistan

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Shelter is becoming the most important commodity in northern Pakistan following the devastating earthquake, and many people are still waiting for tents to arrive as cold weather sets in. Renee Montagne talks to Somini Sengupta, reporter for The New York Times, about the stymied relief efforts in Pakistan.


It has been more than a week since a massive 7.6-magnitude quake ripped through small towns and villages in northern Pakistan. As cold weather sets in, shelter is becoming the most important commodity, and many people are still waiting for tents to arrive. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is warning of what he calls a second massive wave of deaths unless the international community increases relief efforts. Somini Sengupta is the south Asia bureau chief for The New York Times and she joins us now from Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

And is help arriving for people in remote mountainous communities at all?

Ms. SOMINI SENGUPTA (The New York Times): So now this is day 13 after the earthquake, and it is safe to say that some aid, some help is reaching even the hinterlands by mule trains as well as by helicopters. There are nearly 80 helicopters in the country now. We do know that the most seriously wounded, they seem to have been airlifted into hospitals in the major towns and cities now, and some of them made it to hospital, of course, only because their relatives carried them on their shoulders and trekked down through the hills.

MONTAGNE: What about relations between India and Pakistan? They've eased somewhat, but how has it affected the relief effort?

Ms. SENGUPTA: The earthquake has certainly tempered relations between India and Pakistan. The phone lines between the Indian side of Kashmir and the Pakistani side were opened yesterday, so for the first time in, I think, about 15 years, people from the Indian side are able to talk to their relatives on the Pakistani side. They, of course, still cannot cross over the disputed frontier to see the damage on each side or help with the relief efforts. But those discussions are apparently going to start between Indian and Pakistani officials on softening the line of control, as it's called, to let people across. That has not happened yet.

One other very important point: India has sent three consignments of relief to Pakistan. Pakistan has accepted that, but of course, has not accepted Indian helicopters manned by military pilots.

MONTAGNE: And when it comes to medical care, how many are--people are still in need?

Ms. SENGUPTA: That's a very hard number to arrive at. There's of course two types of needs. There's first the injured, and most of them, we believe, have been or are being transported to hospitals for care. But there are also an estimated three million people who have been left homeless by the earthquake, and the temperatures are really plummeting. There's been rain, there's been hail. The snow has started on the mountaintops already, and there is really an increasing risk of hypothermia. And that is the biggest challenge facing relief workers right now, getting three million people, which is an astonishing number, into some kind of shelter.

MONTAGNE: I gather there's really quite a sad irony here in one respect. Pakistan manufactures tents for most of the world, but it appears not to be able to supply tents to its own people in this catastrophe.

Ms. SENGUPTA: No. The Pakistani tent-manufacturing capacity is not sufficient for the number of people who need it, so tents are really in short supply and that's the immediate challenge for relief workers.

MONTAGNE: Somini Sengupta is the south Asia bureau chief for The New York Times, and she joined us from Islamabad.

And you'll find a map, a profile of the region and links for how to help earthquake victims at

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