Nearly six weeks after the Oct. 8 earthquake, the urgency in a town like Balakot is palpable. Ninety percent of the 250,000 people who used to live here are either homeless or dead. Nearly 32,000 families now are either living in tents or in makeshift homes.
In the mountains a few thousand feet above, the peaks are already covered in snow. Time is running short.
But relief agencies cannot put their efforts into overdrive because of critical shortages of money and manpower in a year chock full of disasters competing for resources. The World Food Program, for instance, has an additional 14,000 metric tons of food in stock, but only enough funds to run helicopter air-drop operations for another two or three weeks. Meanwhile, UNICEF has only spent a fraction of the money it has been given because of staff shortages.
"We're six weeks into this, and I'm still trying to recruit staff," says Bill Fellows, regional water and sanitation adviser for UNICEF in Islamabad. "Look, this year you've got Darfur, and Liberia, and the tsunami. Maybe we've run out of capacity globally. I don't know if there are enough people in the world who do this sort of thing."
Both in terms of staff and money, the world response to the quake - a 7.6 temblor that killed more than 87,000 people and left an estimated 2.8 million homeless - has not been encouraging. Only about one-quarter of the relief funds, roughly $118 million, has been committed by donor nations. Donors arriving Saturday in Islamabad will be under pressure to produce actual contributions, not just pledges, to meet a needed $550 million in emergency relief, and an additional $5.2 billion in reconstruction costs.
At a press conference Wednesday, President Pervez Musharraf said, "I don't think Pakistan can do it alone.... If the tsunami or Katrina [survivors] can be assisted, why can't we be assisted? Is the world community lacking in conscience?"
In an Army-run camp in Balakot, Katherine Neumann, reporting officer for the French aid organization ACTED, says the earthquake was only the first part of the disaster. The second part is dealing with the ever-growing population of migrants who have lost their homes. And in Balakot, she says, this is pretty much everybody.
Thus far, her agency has given out plastic sheeting or tents to 1,500 families, tool kits to 900 families, and 900 blankets. Money isn't the problem for her agency, she says. "There hasn't been much coordination between WFP and UNOCHA [the United Nations Office for Coordinating Humanitarian Assistance]," she says.
Farhat Batool, a coordinator for the Lahore-based aid group, Pattan, echoes this sentiment. "It's important to have a proper system in place," she says. "As it is now, one family gets 20 blankets and another family gets nothing."
UN agencies have been making a big difference here.
Food: As of Nov. 8, the WFP has supplied 10,000 metric tons of food, enough to feed 815,000 people; the Pakistani Army has been distributing food to an additional 900,000. But without more money, the WFP airdrops will cease in the next few weeks.
Shelter: The UN High Commission for Refugees has distributed 19,356 tents, enough to shelter an estimated 115,000 (based on estimates of 6 people per tent); and it is managing 20 camps in the disaster zone, assisting more than 25,000 people. But money is critically short: Of the $18 million requested to keep operations moving for the first two months, UNHCR has only received $8.6 million by Week 6.
Water and sanitation: UNICEF is supplying clean drinking water to 500,000 people, latrines or sewage removal for 80,000 people, and soap and hygiene education for 120,000 people. But difficult terrain has hampered efforts. More than 1.8 million people in rural areas may have been living without safe drinking water for more than a month.
Haoliang Xu, country director of the UN Development Program, the agency in charge of early recovery and long-term reconstruction, says the Pakistan earthquake is a much more difficult problem to overcome than the Dec. 26 tsunami.
"There is very difficult terrain here, and in the tsunami you get 100 percent of what you ask for," says Mr. Xu.
Money is clearly an issue, he says, especially now that UN agencies are borrowing against their own long-term programs to pay for the current emergency. "In Pakistan, there are 40 million poor people, roughly 30 percent of the population, but only 3 percent of the population was affected by the earthquake," he says. "So where is my priority?"
• Money: A UN "flash appeal" on Oct. 26 asked for $550 million. Only $119 million has been received so far.
• Food: 1.7 million people have received food rations, and the UN plans to provide food for 600,000 people accessible by road. The UN is also pre-positioning food supplies for 200,000 people for winter months, when many roads may be impassable.
• Shelter: An estimated 500,000 tents are needed to shelter 2.8 million people. The international community delivered 132,000 tents as of Nov. 8. Pakistan has delivered 241,000 tents.
• Health: 300,000 children have been vaccinated against measles, and 200,000 more vaccinations are planned. While there have been several reported outbreaks of diarrhea and dysentery, the UN says none of these could be termed an "epidemic."
• Water and sanitation: The Muzaffarabad water system has been 90 percent restored with the help of UNICEF, supplemented by mobile water trucks. 25,000 hygiene kits have been given out in camps. Latrines or sewage removal services now reach 80,000 affected people.
• Logistics: 19 helicopters are available to UN operations. The UN plans to deliver 7,500 metric tons of food per month by road, and provide mobile storage units in affected areas.
Source: United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA)