Britain to give extra £25m for Pakistan quake relief

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Tony Blair has ordered an increase in British aid by £25m for the Pakistan earthquake disaster as the Government warned the world it was in a "race against time" before the onset of winter costs more lives.

The Prime Minister urged other countries to find more to avert the humanitarian disaster becoming even worse.

Announcing the relief package, the International Development Secretary, Hilary Benn, said yesterday: "Helping those who survived the disaster through the harsh winter period ahead is now our priority. We are still in a race against time to save people's lives, which is why I am making this further significant commitment today."

He said the extra £25m would help to pay for shelter, medical care, food, water and sanitation, and an airlift with more helicopters.

"The international community must now be ready to do more to ensure that the relief effort in isolated areas continues, if we are to avoid further loss of life," he added.

Until yesterday private donations had outstripped the emergency relief sums. A total of £40m had been raised from private individuals immediately after the earthquake for food, tents, medicines and other supplies. Britain had previously allocated £33m.

The increasein Britain's aid will bring the total for emergency relief to £58m, with £70m pledged last week for long-term reconstruction.

Mr Benn said: "Although the relief effort has gathered pace, with the onset of harsh winter conditions the need to strengthen relief operations is now critical. We need to provide for those living above the snow line or in organised or spontaneous camps."

Yesterday Mr Blair hosted a crisis meeting on Pakistan including the UN, Nato, aid agencies, Pakistan community representatives, MPs, private sector representatives and British contributors to the appeal, to discuss what more could be done. Senior ministers are expected to visit the region in the next few weeks.

The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) urged international governments to "dig deep" at a meeting in Islamabad last weekend to discuss funding to help the 3.3 million people affected by the earthquake.

At least 73,000 are feared dead in northern Pakistan and more than 1,300 in Indian Kashmir, with some 2.5 million left in ruined homes facing bitterly cold weather.

Part of the Government's extra funding will pay for helicopters to maintain airlifts of supplies to the region. The Department for International Development will take on the contracts for four medium-lift Mi-8 helicopters over a four-month period. These will be able to deliver relief to any location in the affected area throughout the winter.

A team of officers from the Commando Squadron Royal Engineers will also be deployed under Nato to help earthquake survivors in remote villages.