IRC Helps Pakistan’s Quake Victims Prepare for Harsh Winter
In the Himalayan foothills, hundreds of thousands of survivors of the October 8 earthquake in Pakistan are still living in the open, huddling in the ruins of crumbled buildings, as well as in tents or other makeshift shelters. The harsh winter, now arriving, usually brings snowfalls of up to 10 feet (three meters) and below-zero temperatures (minus 20 degrees centigrade). Time is of the essence and International Rescue Committee teams in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province and Kashmir are working frantically to provide creative options for warmth and shelter to the homeless.
“Weather conditions are deteriorating,” says IRC’s shelter and distribution adviser John Mason. “It’s already below freezing at night and there have been dustings of snow. We predict heavy snowfall any day.”
Blankets, clothes, warm bedding kits and shelter materials are crucial for people as temperatures rapidly keep dropping. In Muzaffarabad’s Danna area, nearly 2,000 meters up in the rugged Kashmiri mountains, some 30,000 people live exposed to the elements.
“Eighty-five percent of all buildings were demolished or damaged beyond repair in this area,” says Mason. “We have reached a lot of families who were left homeless by the earthquake but there are still many more that are in need of warm bedding and protection from the weather.”
The IRC has already distributed over 530 waterproof family tents and more are being prepared for distribution. The IRC is also handing out winterization kits that have so far benefited an estimated 5,600 people. The kits include waterproof tarps, which are placed underneath and over tents for added protection, mats to keep the tent floors warm, heavy quilts, wool blankets, shawls and water cans. In the meantime, shelter repair kits are being assembled. These include shovels, axes, hammers and nails, other tools, and pieces of tin roofing. The materials will help communities construct more durable housing and will support a new IRC program that involves the formation of 20-member teams that will work to clear debris, salvage building materials, like corrugated galvanized iron sheets and beams, and construct shelter for the family of each team member.
The IRC is also using kerosene heaters to warm up its health units and the 12 “child friendly spaces,” where children can resume normal activities, including crafts and sports. Kerosene is considered safer than other forms of heating. Seven people recently died when a candle tipped over, setting fire to a tent housing earthquake survivors.