In Balochistan province, Pakistan, quake leaves children vulnerable

News and Press Release
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By Roshni Karwal

BALOCHISTAN, Pakistan, 5 November 2008 - The death toll from a 6.4-magnitude earthquake that struck the south-western province of Balochistan, Pakistan, on 29 October stands at more 200. The quake has affected about 108,000 people; 50 per cent of them are children, and some 19,000 are under five years of age.

The toll is expected to rise even further as bodies are found under the remains of mud houses that have been reduced to rubble. More than 15,000 mud-walled and timber homes have been severely damaged or destroyed because of their low resistance to earthquakes.

The quake left between 10,000 and 15,000 people homeless when it struck the remote area early last Wednesday morning - and there seems to be no respite from more tragedy.

"There have been many aftershocks following the initial earthquake, and this stops relief teams reaching the affected areas," said UNICEF's Chief of External Relations, Antonia Paradela, in Islamabad.

Relief for the most vulnerable

In the severely hit Pishin district, over 38,000 people have been affected, including almost 7,000 children under five. In Ziarat district, 70,000 people have been affected, while 2,000 houses and 128 schools have been damaged. Many roads are impassable, health care centres have been destroyed, and food and water supplies are at risk.

UNICEF has set up four temporary accommodation centres housing thousands of adults and children in affected areas. "Safe drinking water and sanitation, plus emergency supplies for health needs, are really what we are trying to get out there now," said Ms. Paradela.

Safe water is essential for children, who are especially vulnerable to water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera. Most of the water sources in the quake-affected districts have been damaged. Approximately 12,000 people in Ziarat lack safe water and are dependent on supplies from water tankers.

"Pakistan has been hit by several earthquakes in the past," said UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes Louis-Georges Arsenault. "In this situation, water remains a key issue. The whole issue of water, hygiene and sanitation is critical."

Urgent need for funding

The onset of the winter represents another hurdle for relief efforts. As temperatures drop, particularly at night, many homeless families are left out in temperatures that are already close to the freezing point.

UNICEF is mobilizing additional supplies that were pre-positioned in warehouses in Karachi and Peshawar. But in order to scale up its emergency response in the areas of water and sanitation, nutrition, education and child protection, the organization is urgently seeking $5 million in new funding from donors.

Balochistan, located near the Afghan border, is the largest province in Pakistan but one of its least populated. A 7.5-magnitude quake in the provincial capital, Quetta, killed an estimated 30,000 people in 1935. More recently, in October 2005, a quake in northern Pakistan killed 70,000 people and left more than 3 million homeless.