Pakistan races against winter


GHARI DUPATTA. (AFP) - Bulldozers broke open roads to push into the isolated Himalayas as the UN warned there were not enough tents in the world to keep warm the survivors of Pakistan's pulverising earthquake.

The effort to feed and shelter more than three million people made homeless 10 days ago was also marred by a row between Pakistan and rival India, which turned down a request for helicopters without crews for relief operations. As choppers soared into blue skies and trucks and mules shifted supplies Tuesday, thousands of people still faced death from cold, disease and untreated injuries. "It has started snowing in the hills, people are suffering from fever and they are likely to die -- we need tents and blankets immediately," said Yussuf, 36, a farmer from Haryal village who trekked down to Ghari Dupatta after his son died in the quake. This town was made accessible for the first time since the earthquake after army bulldozers reopened a key road from the Pakistani Kashmir capital Muzaffarabad into the devastated Jhelum Valley. The army also managed to cut through the rocks and mud to clear the road from the razed northwestern town of Balakot to the mountain town of Sanghar, a crucial outpost for far-flung villages. Colonel Rana Sajjad, an army spokesman in razed Muzaffarabad, said they were aiming for a "massive distribution" on Tuesday after bad weather hampered the mercy mission at the weekend. Foreign and Pakistani choppers flew 102 sorties on Monday, the highest number since the quake, and a similar figure was expected Tuesday, said Major Farooq Nasir, another army spokesman in the city. But there was a dire prediction from the United Nations that not enough winter-weight tents existed to shelter survivors from the quake, which the government says killed more than 41,000 people in Pakistan alone. "It is fair to say the indication is that there are not enough tents in the world available to support the requirements," Andrew MacLeod, chief operations officer in the UN emergency response centre in Islamabad, told AFP. UN spokeswoman Amanda Pitt said the supply of tents had been exhausted in Pakistan, which she said was the world's biggest producer of winter tents. Around 37,000 tents had been delivered as of Monday night, the Pakistani government has contributed a further 100,000 and there were around 150,000 on the way, she said. "But still we believe that it is not going to be enough," she said. "The whole thing here is a nightmare. I know it sounds dramatic to say this but it really is a case of nature overwhelming man," Pitt added. Pakistan also appealed for bigger tents to use as makeshift schools in the coming months. Hundreds of schools collapsed in the quake, killing thousands of children. Pakistan said late Monday it was ready to buy tents from its neighbour India "on an urgent basis", putting aside rivalries for the sake of housing its huge population of destitute. But India and Pakistan failed to agree on another aid measure. Pakistan had asked for Indian military helicopters to join the mission to reach thousands of isolated mountain hamlets but said they could not be flown by Indian pilots. Indian foreign secretary Shyam Saran told his Pakistani counterpart Riaz Mohammed Khan that "it would not be possible for India to provide helicopters which are in service with its armed forces without pilots and crews," an Indian foreign ministry statement said. The helicopters would provide vital assistance in quake-hit areas near the military ceasefire line in Kashmir, the disputed Himalayan territory controlled in part by India and Pakistan. The quake struck amid a nearly two-year-old peace process between Islamabad and New Delhi, who have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir since independence in 1947. India has sent three consignments of relief to Pakistan.

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