Pakistan steps up relief efforts in quake-hit region (Lead)

October 31st, 2008 - 8:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Islamabad, Oct 31 (DPA) Pakistani authorities Friday switched their focus from rescue efforts to providing relief aid for thousands of earthquake survivors, who are spending cold nights under the open skies, officials said.Soldiers aided people in remote villages ravaged by the shallow 6.4-magnitude earthquake that struck the northern and central parts of the gas-rich Balochistan province early Wednesday.

Two days after the tragedy, the official death toll stood at 225 but the provincial Chief Minister Aslam Raeesani said it might cross 300.

“(The) bulk of the rescue work is over and operations have systematically entered the relief phase,” said Major Ali Qasim, a military spokesman in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan. However, the rescue has not been called off, he added.

Food and shelter supplies were delivered to many of the around 25,000 people who lost their homes because of the earthquake.

The temor was felt in many parts of the sparsely populated province but hardest hit were the districts of Ziarat and Pishin, where at least eight villages witnessed massive devastation.

Wam, a hamlet in Ziarat with around 200 mud-brick huts, was completely flattened just before dawn, entombing dozens of villagers as they slept.

Qasim said the army had set up two tent villages near Khawas and Wam villages, while a third camp had been established by the Frontier Corps paramilitary force, which deployed more than 1,000 troops in the disaster zone.

He said the military had enough material and supplies to accommodate around 10,000 displaced people. But most of the survivors are reluctant to shift to the camps because of conservative Pashtun tribal traditions that do not allow women mixing with males from outside the family.

“Therefore, now we have started distributing tents directly to the victims so that they can set up the shelter near their demolished houses,” Qasim said. Rations are also being provided through land routes and by helicopters, he added.

The survivors shaken by scores of aftershocks and new tremors are spending the night outdoors while braving sub-zero temperatures.

According to the spokesman, rescuers priority is to provide tents, blankets and winter clothing to the people.

Nevertheless, many residents in the far-flung areas have complained about the “inadequate” aid and the slow response of the rescuers.

Foreign aid continued to pour in Friday, with Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud announcing a contribution of $100 million to the Pakistani government’s relief fund.

Pakistan is undergoing a serve financial crisis due to dwindling foreign exchange reserves and swelling gap in the balance of payments. However, the government has pledged to utilize all resources required for the relief efforts in Balochistan. Provincial governments have also pooled their resources.

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