1 Nov 2008

UN says 300 dead after Pakistan quake

3:36 pm on 1 November 2008

The United Nations says the number of people affected by Wednesday's earthquake in south-western Pakistan is much higher than previously thought.

Officials now say they fear up to 300 people have been killed in the quake in Pakistan's south-west Balochistan province.

The UN Children's Fund says up to 70,000 people have been made homeless, and many are suffering from potentially life-threatening illnesses.

The 6.4-magnitude quake struck Baluchistan, Pakistan's largest but poorest province, on Wednesday. Worst hit was Ziarat district, a picturesque valley and one of the region's main tourist spots.

Aid began reaching devastated villages more than two days after the quake struck.

But angry villagers in remote areas said they desperately needed shelter, with thousands of people whose mud-brick homes were flattened facing several nights sleeping in the open in sub-zero temperatures.

The UN Children's Fund said they and Pakistani government officials assessed the situation in the worst-hit districts and were "concerned about the urgent needs of children and women".

"With winter closing in, the most urgent needs of the survivors are shelter, safe drinking water, food, warm clothing and emergency medical assistance," a UNICEF statement said.

Clean water was a "priority", it said, adding that children were especially vulnerable to diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera.

The district health officer of the stricken hill town of Ziarat, Ayub Kakar said that children were already suffering from exposure to the harsh conditions.

"Due to the cold hundreds of children are being treated for pneumonia, abdominal diseases, diarrhoea and chest problems," he said.

"We fear the death toll will rise. Such diseases, if not treated in time, are life-threatening," Mr Kakar said.

In another village, Ahmadoon, people said they were making tents from scavenged clothing.

"No one from the government has so far inquired about our welfare," said Allah Noor, a teacher.

Military and paramilitary troops have provided more than 2,000 tents and 15 tonnes of food rations, Major General Mohammed Khan said, adding more would arrive in the coming days, but warned that reconstruction could take months.

Baluchistan has Pakistan's biggest reserves of natural gas, but there were no reports of damage to gas facilities.

In 1935, a severe earthquake killed about 30,000 people in Baluchistan, largely destroying the provincial capital, Quetta.