Nato scales back quake aid

2006-01-10 15:12

Islamabad - Nato said on Tuesday it was scaling back its operations in Pakistan's quake-hit region of Kashmir, as authorities issued avalanche and snowfall warnings that promise more misery for survivors of October's devastating temblor.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has about 1 000 troops from its multinational force aiding in relief efforts following the October 8 quake, which killed at least 87 000 people and left 3.5 million homeless.

Nato sent medical teams, engineers and pilots, but with the alliance's 90-day relief mandate scheduled to end next month, the first units will start leaving Kashmir later this week, Nato spokesperson Major Eric Bruijn said.

"We expect to be out of the Kashmir region by February 1," Bruijn said. "We are here for initial disaster relief ... and that's what we have done."

More snow forecasted

Nato had faced criticism early on, as some in Pakistan accused the military alliance of using quake relief as a front for establishing a base here.

The alliance's withdrawal comes as Pakistan's Meteorological Department issued an avalanche warning for the earthquake zone late on Monday, especially for towns and villages higher up in the Himalayas where freezing temperatures are expected.

Officials and aid workers have warned the harsh Himalayan weather could trigger a second wave of deaths among hundreds of thousands of survivors living in tents, and have been racing to deliver as much aid as possible before another snowstorm blocks roads and grounds flights.

Temperatures have already dipped to -15°C in some areas.

More snow was forecast for Tuesday, with another front forecast to move in later this week, the department said. That could set off a series of avalanches and landslides, it added.

The system is likely to "yield widespread rain and snow for at least two to three days," the department said in a statement.

Several areas above 1 500m were already blocked by fresh landslides triggered by three days of heavy snowstorms in early January.

"We all remained concerned, having had a taste of this winter," said Ben Malor, a spokesperson for the United Nations.

Also Tuesday, World Food Programme spokesperson Caroline Chaumont said the UN had resumed aid flights to a quake-hit area where desperate survivors had mobbed its helicopters, prompting a temporary suspension.

The United Nations had temporarily halted flights to Bana Mula and Leepa Valley, southwest of Muzaffarabad, the capital of the Pakistan-controlled section of Kashmir, after more than 50 survivors stormed two helicopters last Friday demanding an airlift. One UN official was assaulted.

But the UN will no longer fly to Bana Mula, and instead use the nearby Leepa Valley helicopter base for deliveries.

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