Pakistan Quake Relief Proceeds Under Tough Conditions

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David Montero, a correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, discusses the efforts to bring relief to earthquake survivors in northwest Pakistan. Montero says he has visited refugee camps in mountainous areas where mudslides have cut off road access — making it hard to deliver food and shelter.


Relief flights into the earthquake-devastated areas of Pakistan are running at full pace today thanks to a rare window of clear, sunny weather in the Himalayan Mountains. It's a welcome change after a period where relief efforts have been stymied by heavy rain and snow and landslides that have left roads impassable. The October 8 earthquake in Pakistan killed 87,000 people, and left more than 3 million homeless. Aid workers warn that the death toll may spike as the harsh Himalayan winter intensifies. David Montero is a correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor. He's visited most of the relief camps, and he joins us now from Islamabad. David, what is the situation in the camps right now?

DAVID MONTERO: It's cold, it's wet. I visited one camp which is near Alai Valley that is considered the largest relief camp in the earthquake zone it has 16,000 people. The people who administer the camp are afraid that it's going to overflow soon. They're anticipating another 15,000 people will be coming there, and they're afraid that there are going to be shortages of food, shortages of electricity, shortages of water. So people are making due but I think there's definitely a growing sense that the conditions there are not adequate.

NORRIS: Now I'm going to ask you about the relief effort getting supplies in and out in just a minute. But first, what are people actually living in?

MONTERO: People are living in a number of different types of shelter, if you will. About 250,000 people are living in the camps, but the vast majority of the people affected by the earthquake, numbering more than three million, are living outside of the camps. Some people have salvaged what's left of their homes. But some people are not that fortunate. They either don't have the money or they don't have the supplies. They've basically had to cobble together some very simple shelters using plastic sheets and blankets and then the Army and NGOs are also helping to build actual shelters made of corrugated, galvanized iron sheets and wood.

NORRIS: How hard is it to get relief into this rugged, mountainous region?

MONTERO: It's really hard, it's really hard. And I was recently, as I said, up in Alai Valley about a week ago and I traveled with an Army Major. And we traveled on the only road that goes from the capitol of Alai Bona(ph) to small town called Pastuel(ph). And this road is literally, basically it's a ledge thousands of feet above the valley. It's muddy, its snowed-in at points, it's only big enough for one vehicle to drive on, a four-by-four vehicle, obviously. And the day that we happened to be traveling on it, a piece of the road had fallen away from the mountain because of a landslide and the town of Pastuel that we were trying to get to was now completely cut off from any type of shelter relief.

NORRIS: Well, the U.N. is warning that it may have to suspend its airlift operations in March or early April. That's not long from now is it? Is it the case that they could actually suspend flights when starving and sick people are still stuck in the mountains?

MONTERO: That's the word that we've heard even last week. You know, the U.N. told us that they are living paycheck to paycheck. You know, these helicopters cost a million dollars a month to run, the operations are costing two million dollars a day. The director of the World Food Program told us all the food that is needed to see people through their winter in the earthquake zone is already in the country but it can't be moved because there aren't enough hands and not enough cash to move it.

NORRIS: And some of the relief organizations have put out an urgent call for female doctors, do you know anything about that?

MONTERO: It's a very important point and actually the hospital I visited in Bona is run by Save the Children and the only female doctor there is an American volunteer doctor. And she had been there for two weeks and the hospital had seen 3,200 female patients which I was told was unprecedented in that area because there had never really been female doctors in that area before and the women were reluctant to go to the hospital because it's against their religious sensibilities to be treated by a male doctor unless its really an extreme case.

NORRIS: David, thanks so much for talking to us.

MONTERO: Thank you.

NORRIS: David Montero is a correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor. He was speaking to us about the ongoing relief efforts to in Pakistan.

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