The situation in Pakistan is so bad that the United Nations today urged NATO countries to stage a huge and immediate airlift to get life-saving supplies to earthquake victims. Tens of thousands of people are still trapped in the earthquake zone almost two weeks since the quake. If we are to save them, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland said, an airlift equivalent to that in Berlin in 1949 is required.
Egeland’s call came as UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan warned that earthquake survivors would be engulfed in a “wave of death” unless there was an “immediate and exceptional escalation” in the international aid effort. (UNICEF, the UN children’s organization, officially estimates that at the present rate of the relief efforts, 10,000 children will die within weeks.)
Although the official death count remains at 49,739, local authorities released “unofficial” figures putting casualties at almost 80,000, which one UN expert described yesterday as “credible.” Despite these stunning numbers–close to last year’s tsunami and far more lethal than what Hurricane Katrina wrought in the US–global relief aid has been exceedingly sluggish: Less than fourteen percent of the UN’s emergency appeal of $410 million has been donated to date.
Furthermore, according to Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald, despite repeated and increasingly desperate requests, the world’s armies have so far between them mustered only 68 helicopters–vital for lifting tents, food and medical supplies to the inaccessible mountains of Pakistani-administered Kashmir. (Helicopters are the only means of getting quickly deep into the Himalayan foothills of Pakistani Kashmir and North West Frontier Province where, according to Reuters, 51,000 people are known to have died.)
Moreover, crucial needs extend beyond rescuing survivors. As Somini Sengupta reports in today’s New York Times, there’s a “pressing need to shelter up to three million Pakistani earthquake survivors before the harsh Himalayan winter sets in.” She adds that this is one of “the most difficult relief operations the world has ever faced.”