Winter and neglect could kill thousands who survived the earthquake

Published: 13 December 2005

A second humanitarian disaster looms in Pakistan unless action is taken now

A dramatic increase and improvement in the international relief operation is essential to avert a second humanitarian disaster in Pakistan, Oxfam warned today. "The international community must work together and work faster to fulfil their promise to prevent further deaths. Within weeks, the window of opportunity to bring relief to hard-to-reach areas will shut, the time to act is now," Farhana Faruqi Stocker, Oxfam's Pakistan Country Director explained.

Thousands of people are suffering from upper respiratory tract infections. Many survivors have still not been reached. Some communities have told Oxfam that they have already started digging graves before the earth is hardened by the winter. It is a race against the onset of appalling weather – but success is still possible if the relief operation is scaled up now.

The challenge is that despite scaling up, the UN relief operation is not yet big enough. It is under-resourced and under-funded. The UN is most effective in protecting survivors when large numbers of experienced professionals are on the ground to provide leadership, advice and delivery – and clearly there is still much more to be done.

Donor governments must respond to the looming second disaster of winter by increasing their funding to the UN relief appeal and releasing what is already pledged. Despite 40% of funds being committed 'on paper' to the fund, in reality it is only 25% funded, with 15% remaining locked in commitments not yet delivered. The World Food Programme, for example, is still short of US $115 million of the $182 million it needs. Donor governments need to show the same generosity as members of the public have. Unless the international community provides the help needed, it will be people in the mountains who will be paying the price.

Heavy snows are likely to lead to increased movement of people. Many more people are having to make the bleak choice of staying where they are, for strong cultural reasons and in order to look after their land and livestock. Time is running out to reach them with the shelter materials they need to keep alive where they are.

Action is also needed to protect people who have left their mountain villages to stay in the camps. Oxfam welcomes the process initiated by the Government of Pakistan to transfer the management of much of the relief operation from the military to the civilian authorities, but cautions that this needs to be done in a phased manner that supports the civilian authorities to ensure effective camp management.

Properly resourced, well-managed camps, combined with provision to those who are staying in the mountains would see people through the winter. Further deaths are not inevitable.

"There is a real danger that this unprecedented natural disaster will be followed by a man-made one", remarked Stocker. "The international community has the capacity to do what is required. It is not yet too late but further delay would be fatal."

Notes to Editors

Oxfam's report, A Mountain to Climb, explains what needs to be done to prevent further deaths following the Pakistan earthquake.

Oxfam's earthquake relief response, and its international appeal, began on 8th October. Oxfam has helped over 200,000 people including providing fully winterized shelter to over 120,000 people made homeless by the earthquake – in the next few weeks will be distributing another 120,000 fully winterized shelter packages. Oxfam's operation has included the provision of winterized tents, blankets, corrugated iron sheets, material for bandis (traditional shelters), water tanks, latrines, hygiene kits, public health education, cash-for-construction-work activities, and de-wormers for livestock owners. Oxfam has also been working to improve the conditions of camps through winterization and promotion of the involvement of affected communities – especially women – in camp management. Oxfam will be expanding our operation to reach around 512,000 people in total.

Oxfam has been working in Pakistan since 1973, both in disaster response and in long-term development. Around the world, Oxfam works with others to overcome poverty and suffering.

Contact Information

For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact:
Jo Walker in Pakistan on +92 (0)3008569012 or