Disease Results in Second Wave of Quake Victims

Pakistan is still trying to come to terms with the suffering of earthquake survivors. By conservative counts, 56,000 people died after the quake struck the remote Himalayas three weeks ago. The United Nations is warning that a second wave of deaths from disease has begun.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

The death toll from the earthquake in Pakistan three weeks ago continues to climb. By conservative estimates, it's reached 56,000. As helicopters ferry aid to far-flung villages in the Himalayas, United Nations officials repeated warnings that the money for the relief operation is running out. Andrew Macleod, the chief of operations for the UN's Emergency Coordination Center, issued this dire warning.

Mr. ANDREW MACLEOD (Chief of Operations, UN's Emergency Coordination Center): The second wave has begun. We have already seen the first diarrheal deaths of children and known the first child that has died of pneumonia. The second wave of deaths has begun. It is too late to stop it from starting. It is possible to stop it from continuing if we have more money.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Ivan Watson traveled through the earthquake zone today and speaks to us from Abbottabad.

Hi, Ivan.

IVAN WATSON reporting:

Hello.

ELLIOTT: This UN alarm seems very serious. How much money does the relief effort have now and how much is needed?

WATSON: The United Nations has asked for about half a billion dollars. The international community has pledged a bit more than that, but less than a third of that money has actually come through. And to put it into perspective, a UN official said that this was abysmal, saying that at this stage, after the Southeast Asia tsunami, donors had raised about $1 billion. Pakistan's gotten little more than $100 million. The UN has even warned that it may have to start grounding some of its helicopters, which are flying relief operations for lack of money.

ELLIOTT: You were in the stricken villages today. What are conditions like now?

WATSON: It looks like the entire Pakistani population, for the five hours that I drove up into the mountains non-stop, has moved into either tents or into some makeshift shelters. Even those whose homes are still standing, they don't dare move into those homes for fear that an aftershock could bring down what's left of those buildings. There are distribution camps every 10 miles or so along a main road, with hundreds of men seen sitting waiting in line for tents to be distributed or food. Despite this impressive distribution system that's come together, the Pakistani military says they are not reaching some places so far. And, in fact, one town I visited says they've only gotten a little bit of help by airlifts so far.

ELLIOTT: Are there any signs that the people there are starting to pick up the pieces of their lives now?

WATSON: Well, that's something that's really impressive. Despite the damage and the destruction, you do see people out herding their flocks of goats, their cows. You see people harvesting out in the fields; people even sitting in the ruins of their shops in the village market selling goods. Now this has been helped, in part, by the fact that the roads have been opened by the government, the landslides have been cleared, the electricity has, more or less, been turned on to some of these far-flung villages. But as I mentioned, everybody is living, it seems, in a tent right now, sometimes 10 people to a tent. And there are serious fears of the upcoming winter. In a town I visited called al-Hai(ph), people said that they want help evacuating from there before the Himalayan winter comes. And the Pakistani military today said that that is their biggest challenge right now, preparing to partially evacuate, voluntarily evacuate at least two valleys and set up tent villages for at least 50,000 people for each of those valleys.

ELLIOTT: You mentioned that the tsunami relief effort got so much more money within this time frame. Is there a sense of why this earthquake isn't generating the kind of international relief that the tsunami did?

WATSON: I think people agree that there is some donor fatigue after the tsunami, after the crisis in New Orleans. In addition to that, some United Nations officials say that the tsunami--the vivid graphic images of that wave coming in and hitting tourist destinations, where Westerners were living, that that really struck a nerve, especially around Christmas and New Year's, a time of giving, vs. the Pakistani earthquake, which affected people that many people don't--have not established a rapport with.

ELLIOTT: Thank you, NPR's Ivan Watson.

WATSON: You're welcome.

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