British charities are to combine forces to launch a multimillion-pound appeal for victims of the Asian earthquake. The scale of the tragedy has prompted the formation of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), an umbrella group of 13 charities.
A campaign will launch later in the week with television endorsements and an appeal for donations.
The biggest priorities are warm shelter and clean water supplies. Temperatures are falling to near freezing at night and snow is expected in the next few weeks in places where up to 90 per cent of houses have been destroyed.
Wasim Bhat, a programme officer with Save the Children in the Baramulla district of northern India, said the earthquake had led to local water supplies becoming polluted.
He said: "The mountain streams have turned black it almost looks like an oil spill. Before the earthquake, it was clear drinking water."
The first-aid flights are expected to leave Britain today, bringing tents, tarpaulins and medical kits to the region.
Assessment teams from the Government and non-government organisations are also arriving in Pakistan to ensure that aid reaches those who are most in need.
A report published last week criticised the chaotic nature of the relief effort in the wake of the Boxing Day tsunami. The International Federation of the Red Cross said that different UN departments did not liaise with each other and that charities overlapped and failed to share information.
However, fears that the public may not respond to the earthquake appeal because of "donation fatigue" and allegations of incompetence and corruption in the wake of other recent disasters have been confounded.
Almost £3m has been pledged by British organisations, including the London-based relief agencies Muslim Aid, Islamic Relief and Christian Aid.
The United Nations children's agency, Unicef, appealed for an initial $20m (£11.4m) to provide emergency relief yesterday. One in five people in the affected area is a child under five and nearly half of the population is under 18.
Ann Veneman, the executive director of Unicef, said: "This appeal means immediate action to save children's lives. Needed assistance includes medical care, clean water, nutritional food for infants, clothing and shelter the things that matter most in the critical few weeks after a disaster like this."
She said that another priority was to reopen schools in the region. "We were all shocked by the news that children were killed as they sat at their desks, but very quickly it will be time to get those who survived back to their classrooms," she said. "School provides the structure and rhythm that they have lost, a touchstone that will help overcome shock and trauma."
In an emergency statement to MPs, Hilary Benn, the International Development Secretary, outlined the Government's £1m-plus contribution to the relief effort so far. British search-and-rescue teams had been scrambled immediately, he said, and were the first international help to arrive.
The UK has already provided 1,000 winter tents, 10,000 tarpaulins and 19,000 blankets. Mr Benn said: "The UK will continue to play its part in helping to ensure that those who have suffered in this tragedy get the help and succour they need over the coming days and weeks."
Oxfam plans to spend £4m on supporting 20,000 people in India and 300,000 in Pakistan who have been left homeless, bereaved or injured by the earthquake.
However, charities are concerned that the dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir could hamper the relief effort.
Dominic Nutt, the emergencies specialist at Christian Aid, said: " Warring parties must not use the disaster as a means to further their military aims and they must grant access to aid teams but there is no guarantee that they will."
To donate to the appeal, call 0870 6060 900 or visit www.dec.org.ukReuse content