In an unprecedented response, readers of The Independent on Sunday have donated more than £115,000 to help the victims of the Pakistan earthquake.
The money will support the work of ActionAid, which has set up a department in Islamabad dedicated to helping survivors for the next three years. Richard Miller, director of the charity's UK branch, said the response had been "nothing short of magnificent" and is already saving lives.
The cash couldn't come at a more critical time: the life-threatening weather aid agencies had feared descended last weekend. Three to four feet of snow barred access to most of the earthquake-hit areas, and temperatures above 5,000ft, where thousands still live, fell to as low as -13C.
"The government is continuously trying to clear the roads, but it is very difficult," said Bushra Gohar, ActionAid earthquake relief director in Pakistan. "There are landslides that have blocked the roads in Muzaffarabad [in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir] and Batagram [North-West Frontier Province]. For a few days, relief work came to a standstill."
It is feared that up to 40 per cent of children living in remote mountainous areas could die as more start to catch pneumonia. "Because road conditions are bad, vehicles are not able to bring these patients to whatever makeshift hospitals are available," said Ms Gohar. "The risk is that many of these people will die, especially children. This is only the beginning,".
Many of the relief tents in which homeless refugees are living have collapsed under snow. So far ActionAid has distributed thousands of pieces of metal sheeting to build more robust shelters. "We had planned to provide shelters to 4,000 families," said the aid director. "With this money I feel we can easily increase it to another 1,500 families. There are on average around 11 people in a family, so 16,500 will be helped. They will also be given stoves, warm clothes, kitchen utensils, food and bedding." Three months after the tragedy, food is still in short supply. The charity has just sent four truckloads of aid to 500 families in Muzaffarabad. The packs include flour, tea, cooking oil, salt, spices, pulses and milk.
In other areas, such as Bagh, in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, or Mansehra, North-West Frontier Province, victims are asking for bedding and warm clothes. The charity has distributed heating stoves to 1,000 families and a 1,000 more are about to be sent out. "There is a big pressure to get these things to people as quickly as possible, before roads get blocked," said Ms Gohar.
But the disaster will not be over when the snows melt. Reconstruction will only start in earnest when those in tented villages are able to return. Hospital and schools will have to be rebuilt, along with homes, and many of the victims will also need counselling.
While our Christmas Appeal has come to an end, ActionAid still welcomes donations. For more information call 0800 587 1919 or visit actionaid.org.uk/iosReuse content