Aid Paralyzed by Lack of Air Transportation in Pakistan

Race Against Time: Lack of sufficient helicopters and onset of winter increase chances of second humanitarian disaster.

The international aid organization Action Against Hunger (also known as Action contre la Faim or ACF) issued an urgent warning today that without significant international assistance there will be no way to meet all of the needs of the people in Pakistan.

Although the organization has been able to deliver some supplies, ACF emphasized that the lack of sufficient transportation has become a potentially lethal impediment to relief efforts in Pakistan.

"Every aid organization is trying to rush things out to the survivors with very limited means and in a harsh geographical environment," said ACF Country Director for Pakistan, Loan Tran Thanh. "We have to use our imaginations just to ensure a minimum number of deliveries."

Most relief efforts are concentrating around the Himalayan foothills in the north of Pakistan, where the treacherous terrain—reaching up to 15,000 feet in elevation; higher than the highest peak of the Rocky Mountains—means that often the only way to transport supplies is by mule or helicopter. The slow precariousness of travel by mule make helicopters the obvious choice, but helicopters are in short supply. There are only 69 in Pakistan currently requisitioned for aid delivery. ACF calculates that at this rate it would take about 4 ½ months just to deliver the necessary tents, let alone blankets or any other winter supplies, to those who need them. With the full force of winter about to hit Pakistan in just one month, this is nowhere near enough to save the majority of the 2.7 million people left homeless in Pakistan.

The high elevation of the area means that winter comes quickly and is unforgiving. Most transportation routes will shut down, making it impossible to deliver much of the aid that is needed. Without shelter people will be left naked against snow and ice, and average winter temperatures that reach below 0 degrees Celsius.

Part of the problem is that although there has been some support from the international community, it is dwarfed by the immensity of the disaster. The UN's flash appeal for $312 million in aid for the earthquake victims has only been about one-third fulfilled, and many aid organizations are reporting a miniscule response by private donors to this disaster. Action Against Hunger has received a tiny $27,000 for the disaster in Pakistan, compared with the nearly $400,000 it received during the first two weeks following the tsunami that hit South and Southeast Asia in December 2004.

"We are certainly doing our best to respond to this disaster," notes ACF Desk Officer, Roger Persichino, "but considering the donor response rates that everyone has been getting, we are looking at an almost guaranteed tragedy once winter comes. Pakistan is mobilized, people are doing a fabulous job volunteering or giving the meager resources they have, yet the world is not responding. I am shattered by the current figures raised for this emergency.

"I know that the tsunami was exceptional, but by comparison this is abysmal."