Baby becomes first quake survivor to die of cold

By Justin Huggler

A three-month-old baby has become the first Pakistan earthquake survivor to die of the cold as thousands more face the onset of winter without shelter.

Waqar Mukhtar died hours after he was admitted to hospital in Kashmir with pneumonia.

Relief workers are warning that unless more aid reaches the affected area fast, his may be the first in a new wave of deaths from the earthquake.

Waqar was among the hundreds of thousands of earthquake survivors who live in villages on the high mountainsides of Kashmir and neighbouring North-West Frontier Province - mountains where the first snow has just begun to arrive.

He was rushed down the mountainside to hospital in the city of Muzzaffarabad as soon as he fell sick, but it was too late.

In many villages, the survivors are still without adequate shelter, despite desperate pleas from the United Nations and the Pakistani government for more international aid.

Many live under makeshift tents made out of plastic sheeting, or crude shelters they have hammered together from planks and bits of corrugated iron roofing they have salvaged from the ruins of their homes.

Doctors have warned that it is the children who are at gravest risk from the cold without proper shelter.

In many villages, there is only enough room in the tents for the women and youngest children.

Men and boys as young as 14 sleep outside.

At least 87,000 people died in the October 8 earthquake.

But with survivors living in desperate conditions and aid still slow to arrive, aid organisations fear there could be thousands more avoidable deaths.

Even as aid agencies and the Pakistani army raced to distribute tents, makeshift shelter materials and food, the crisis was compounded by severe weather conditions which grounded helicopters for all of Sunday and most of Monday.

Helicopters were flying again yesterday but aid agencies are warning that once the heavy snowfalls set in helicopters could be grounded most of the time.

Meanwhile mountains roads - the only lifeline to villages if helicopters cannot fly - are being blocked by new landslides triggered by the snowfall.

The Pakistani army tried to close several roads because of the danger from rock falls, but villagers insisted on travelling on them to try to get tents and food.

At least 12 villages where survivors are still sheltering are in grave risk of being wiped out by landslides which could bring the entire mountainside down, a geologist working as a UN consultant to the Pakistani government warned yesterday.

Professor Jean Schneider warned that the villages should be evacuated.

But villagers have resisted evacuation, partly because they fear losing what little property they still own, including livestock, and partly because of the wretched conditions in overcrowded relief camps in the towns and cities.

Several mountainsides collapsed, bringing down entire villages, in the original quake.

The UN appealed for more relief funds yesterday.

"The race to provide suitable shelter in time is not lost yet," said Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the UN's humanitarian agencies.

"But the consequences resulting from a lack of funds could result in more deaths of vulnerable people."

- INDEPENDENT

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