The worst of the weather is yet to come for the survivors of the South Asia earthquake battling to stay alive this winter. Snowfall in December was not as heavy as feared, with only a handful of deaths reported in Pakistan and around 100 in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. But January may well bring catastrophic weather conditions that could put the lives of thousands at risk.
Aid agencies estimate that around 100,000 people died in the quake that struck on 8 October last year, leaving three million homeless. Many are sheltering in relief tents, not all of which are winter-proof. Those in the higher regions of the mountains are already living with several feet of snow.
"The situation is still critical," warned Rubina Saigol, the director of the charity ActionAid in Pakistan. "When it doesn't snow heavily in December, often it does in January... The disaster we were afraid of may still happen.We need as much help as we can get."
The Pakistan government is offering 25,000 rupees [£250] in compensation to each affected household. But many survivors will not receive it. In Mansehra, Allai and Batagram, in North-West Frontier Province, the charity's relief teams found that 80 per cent of families whose houses were destroyed had built their homes on the land of rich property-owners. As they rented the land, they are not entitled to compensation under the scheme. The money would go to the landowner.
"In the short term, these people need shelter, but in the long term they need help to rebuild their lives," said Bushra Gohar, the director of ActionAid's earthquake relief. "Cash to rebuild their houses will make a huge difference. But the fear is that in mountainous areas, like the Allai Valley, it will not reach about 80 per cent of the survivors.
"We are lobbying the government to address this concern and ensure compensation is given to these landless peasants. We have also met the landowners in the Allai Valley to make the point that they should give the compensation to those who were living in the damaged houses, even if they were on their land."
So far, readers have donated more than £92,000 to The Independent on Sunday's appeal to support ActionAid's work with earthquake victims. Every reader who has made a donation has made, or will make, a difference to someone's life.
"Every single penny has helped," Dr Saigol said. "Primarily, we have been focusing on the most urgent needs, such as medical care, shelter, latrines, heating and basic food items.
"I would like to extend my enormous appreciation to all of those who have contributed so far."
More than 63,000 people have received help from ActionAid until now, and a further 10,000 have been seen by the charity's five medical camps. More than 3,000 families have been allocated galvanised iron sheets to make shelters.
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