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The Struggles of Recovery

October 20, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


EMILY REUBEN: The refugees from this disaster are now fighting for their survival. Here in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, 20 miles from the capital, they’re desperate for food, for blankets, for anything. This man said he’s been waiting three days for aid. If anything, the need is greater now and as winter approaches it’s growing day by day. This was once the capital Muzaffarabad’s football stadium. Today it’s what the desperate are calling home — 2,000 refugees without running water, without electricity.

They’re living under whatever they can find, but what they desperately need are winter tents to keep them warm. “We cannot survive without shelter,” said this mother. “How will the children live without a tent?”

It’s the sheer size of this disaster that has taken aid agencies by surprise. Today U.N.’s emergency relief coordinator said today it demanded a response like no other. He called for an airlift of hundreds of thousands stranded in the mountains of Kashmir

JAN EGELAND: Think bold, think big, think creatively. We’re humanitarians. We don’t know how you evacuate hundreds of thousands of people out in the Himalayas, but the most effective military alliance in the world should be able to know that. And in a way that’s what I say to NATO member states: Imagine if it was your citizens, what would you do?

EMILY REUBEN: NATO has been dropping food to remote areas since Tuesday, but humanitarian expertise has been dwarfed here by this impossible terrain. It’s so inaccessible, a quarter of people still haven’t even been reached. But using NATO helicopters to evacuate people is a far more radical move that some say just won’t work.

PAUL ANTACONI, British Red Cross: And those 25 percent are not all waiting on a football pitch with a nice landing strip saying, “I’m ready to come out. Come and get me.” They are up in the mountains. They’re cold. They’re injured. They’re unhappy. They’re angry.

EMILY REUBEN: The political struggle that has ripped Kashmir in two for more than 50 years looks for now to have been put aside — the Mujahadeen Kashmiri Islamic militant group, offering food and shelter.

JIM LEHRER: And to Ray Suarez.

RAY SUAREZ: For an update on the relief effort we turn to Afshan Khan, deputy director of emergency operations at UNICEF, and Michael Hess, assistant administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development, the federal government’s lead humanitarian assistance agency.

Afshan Khan, we just saw that report on the desperate nature of this relief, but is anything getting better? Can we point to some areas of improvement where there had been some real desperate suffering earlier that’s now being relieved?

AFSHAN KHAN: Thank you, Mr. Lehrer. Yes, there’s been some improvement. We can say water has been restored to half of the citizens in Muzaffarabad. But I think as you saw the logistical challenges in this crisis are huge. The number of children we have been not able to reach in the mountains is estimated at 120,000. The next three weeks will be critical to survival of those children. And we anticipate that at least half a million children, or close to half a million children will be in remote mountain villages that we still have not managed to reach. The challenges there are huge.

RAY SUAREZ: Michael Hess, it’s said one of the pinch points, one of the bottlenecks is the supply of helicopters. Why is it so hard to get helicopters to a specific country on the globe?

MICHAEL HESS: That’s a good question, Ray, and, obviously, if you’ve got helicopters in the region, you want them there quickly. We were able to get helicopters over from Afghanistan, fly them in directly into Islamabad, where they have started ferrying. We now have 21 helicopters on the ground. There are 19 more en route but they have to be flown in by big airplanes to Afghanistan to Bagram Airport where they’ll be reassembled and then flown into Islamabad.

RAY SUAREZ: When you look at a map of Asia, this is the confluence of several countries that have pretty big militaries, countries where a lot of the GDP every year is devoted to military spending. So why are there so few helicopters even in that region to begin with?

MICHAEL HESS: Well, obviously, you need helicopters that are the dual rotor ones, the heavy ones that you see there, because you can’t use the other light ones. When you get up in the mountains to that elevation you can no longer have the lift that we need to get into those high altitudes, and that really cuts down on the numbers of helicopters that you really can use. When you use a Blackhawk or a Huey or some of the other ones the nations have, they’re not effective in delivering supplies into these high altitudes into these regions.

RAY SUAREZ: Ms. Khan, reports are starting to come out of people who have frankly gotten tired of waiting for help to reach them and have begun to pour out of these villages to the nearest relief point, towns that already have plenty of homeless people. Are any of these places prepared to receive evacuees?

AFSHAN KHAN: Well, there have been some camps set up actually by UNHCR. We’re seeing three to four thousand families in nine different locations now. It’ll be a huge challenge to get water and sanitation, latrines, immunization to these groups and we have to be really coordinated in our efforts in order to do that. Some camps have started to be dug. Latrines are a real issue. We’ve immunized more than 3,000 children but we hope to immunize 800,000 within the next 21 days to prevent the spread of disease. Diarrhea and acute respiratory infections are real risks as well.

RAY SUAREZ: Is there a way to map that affected part of the earthquake zone and know, yes, we’ve reached these villages; no, we haven’t reached these, and start to triage?

AFSHAN KHAN: There is a humanitarian information center that’s just been set up. Some mapping will start, but it’s very clear that some of these mountain villages are so remote, so difficult to reach, that this is an operation like no other. In the tsunami, most of the population was in coastal areas. We could each them easily. The challenges in terms of logistics here are huge.

RAY SUAREZ: Michael Hess, when the Agency for International Development starts sending supplies toward an affected area is there somebody waiting there who says, okay, this stuff should go here and we need this stuff that you’ve brought to send it over here? Is there sort of a controlling system in place?

MICHAEL HESS: Right, exactly. When he set up these disaster assistance response teams and we send them to the area, we always make sure that there are operations people and logistics people on those teams to make sure they can sort out and help the Pakistani government as the air flights come in. We also work with the joint logistic centers that are set up by WFP, and UNDEC, which comes from the U.N. OCHA. So we work together as a team to make sure that when the goods arrive on the ground, we work with those who are going to send them on so it’s a coordinated effort, and we can make sure that we get the right supplies to the right area.

RAY SUAREZ: Does it also mean, though, that AID is one of many agencies there at the airport, there at the drop site, and you suddenly have to figure some things out as far as who’s going to go first, who’s going to wait, and those sorts of issues?

MICHAEL HESS: Exactly. And it’s important that we have been working this region for a long time, so we have implementing partners already that we’ve worked with in the past. So that when goods arrived and we already know how to work with them, that we can get it out much more quickly to he affected areas.

And to go back to your question on the people and getting them into camps, we’ve also been working with the Pakistani government on setting up a voucher system for host families so that if a family is going to take in some of these people who need to get out of these desperate areas, that we can give them money and food as a supplement to their income so that they can take these people in.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, UNICEF’s special mission, Ms. Khan, has always been children. It looks like there are a lot of injured, unescorted, orphaned children. Is it tough keeping track of them? Is it tough finding next of kin? Is it tough even knowing where they end up once you evacuate them from a heavily affected area?

AFSHAN KHAN: Oh, yeah, we’re really seeing a crisis within a crisis here. We know a lot of children have lost lives, but they’ve also lost limbs. It’s — the number of injured children is huge. We’ve seen evacuations to hospitals. We’ve now started working with the Pakistani government, the Ministry of Social Welfare, the Save the Children Alliance, and The International Committee of the Red Cross to start tracing those children who are in hospitals, to make sure they’re appropriately registered, to make sure they don’t leave the hospitals, either without some kind of record and setting up facilities to know where they’re going.

But in terms of the number of orphaned children, at this point, we still do not have a clear idea of numbers. So this operation in terms of being able to help reunify children who may have been separated from their parents is going to take a few months to come.

RAY SUAREZ: And do you have the money you need?

AFSHAN KHAN: Well, we’ve already appealed for $64 million. We’re only funded at about a third of what we need. Compared to the tsunami, we were almost 80 percent funded by this time. The rest of the U.N. system is only 12 percent funded, and there’s a huge need for additional resources: Money, cash, but also, I think, as Mr. Egeland pointed out, a clear need for more relief items particularly shelter for children. They’re going to be extremely vulnerable in the cold weather, and also additionally, medical teams to deal with the injured. We’re going to have a huge problem in Pakistan of disabled children in this zone that’s going to take years to solve.

RAY SUAREZ: What’s the U.S. Government’s commitment so far, Michael Hess?

MICHAEL HESS: The commitment right now is $50 million. And we have assessment teams on the ground who are looking at that because we realize this is going to be a relief operation that continues much longer than a normal earthquake — one because of the onset of winter. We have obligated already $17.4 million and are reviewing proposals from our implementing partners for another $18 million tonight. So we’re trying to get the funds out to those partners as quickly as possible. We’ve already airlifted six flights of supplies in, in addition to what the Department of Defense has already sent in. That’s just the USAID contribution.

RAY SUAREZ: Does the pressure of the calendar mean that you’re doing some things differently to make them happen faster?

MICHAEL HESS: Oh, absolutely, you have to. I mean, we don’t have the time and the luxury. It’s already down to 20 degrees at night there, so it’s freezing. We don’t have the luxury of time in this instance.

RAY SUAREZ: Michael Hess, Afshan Khan, thank you both.