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Pakistan Toll Rises; Thousands Need Shelter


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

This weekend, Pakistan raised its estimated death toll from last week's earthquake to nearly 40,000, with more than 60,000 injured. A severe shortage of tents is hampering rescue and relief operations in the mountains there, where it's been raining. As NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Islamabad, there's a serious risk more people will now die for lack of shelter.

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

No one knows how many people are out there, living in the open in the foothills of the Himalayas, but it is a multitude; aid agencies estimates fear between two and half and three and a half million people--men, women and children--battling the cold and the rain in pathetic makeshift shelters. Eight days on, aid agencies still don't know how many tents they actually need, but the number runs into hundreds of thousands. They do know, though, that only a tiny fraction of the required number has so far reached the devastated areas. Cassa Malik(ph), a Pakistani businessman based in London, has just visited the disaster zone.

Mr. CASSA MALIK (Pakistani Businessman): We didn't see a single tent while we were driving through the region. We saw people sitting--like, they'd put two charpays, which is the local beds there, and they put a blanket or a mat on top and they were sitting underneath. Or we saw people around fires. They'd just burnt the rubbish and they were sitting around fires just to keep themself warm.

REEVES: Anika Timinan(ph) of the International Organization for Migration says the main need is for winterized tents capable of accommodating a family, and she says it's urgent.

Ms. ANIKA TIMINAN (International Organization for Migration): Well, basically we are playing around a window of three to four weeks. We have already got reports that some areas there's already snow and the temperature today has been minus 3 degrees in some areas. So we don't have much time.

REEVES: Getting the tents out there is no easy task.

(Soundbite of thunderstorm activity)

REEVES: Today, helicopter flights from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, were suspended because of fierce storms. People in the affected areas are so desperate they're turning violent. When Cassa Malik arrived in the town of Bagh with a convoy of aid, it was set upon. He says the mob dispersed only after the Pakistani army was called in and fired shots in the air.

Mr. MALIK: The desperation is immense because the weather is getting cold, the rains are coming and the people want shelter over their heads. They want blankets, they want tents. Unfortunately, the number of supplies in the area is not commensurate with the demand and, therefore, everybody wants to grab what they can lay their hands on before the winter sets in.

REEVES: Among the homeless are many, many children. Michael Bociurkiw, of the UN children's agency UNICEF, says there's an explanation for the shortage of tents.

Mr. MICHAEL BOCIURKIW (UNICEF): The big reason is the tsunami. And there have have been, as you know, other natural and manmade disasters, so the supply has really been sucked up. In order to help people and procure supplies and do everything we do--move people around--we require a lot of support from the donor community, and you can't help but think with everything that's going on around the world, and especially after the tsunami, about perhaps donor, even compassion fatigue setting in.

REEVES: Aid officials have been working to buy up tents from all over the world--for example, from the United Arab Emirates, from Turkey and China. Pakistan's a major producer of tents. Its factories are now reportedly working full-tilt, but there's not a lot of time. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.