New wave of deaths will hit Pakistan, says Annan

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The UN's senior relief coordinator called yesterday for an operation on the scale of the 1940s Berlin airlift to get aid into affected areas and evacuate tens of thousands of stranded victims before winter sets in.

In a stark summary of the scale of the emergency, Mr Annan said: "An estimated three million men, women and children are homeless. Many of them have no blankets or tents to protect them against the merciless Himalayan winter. That means a second, massive wave of death will happen if we do not step up our efforts now."

Speaking at a press conference, Mr Annan said: "It is a race against time to save the lives of these people. This is a huge, huge disaster - perhaps the biggest ever that we have seen - and at the time of the cold season."

He was sending letters to "a whole set of countries" asking for more money.

In Geneva, the UN's emergency relief co-ordinator, Jan Egeland, called for a massive airlift to get aid in and evacuate the injured and homeless. "The world is not doing enough," he said. "We have never had this kind of logistical nightmare ever. We thought the tsunami was the worst we could get. This is worse."

The tsunami on 26 December killed more than 200,000 people. But the Pakistan earthquake has left more people homeless - and unlike tsunami survivors, who were in accessible coastal areas in a warm climate, they are stranded in remote mountain areas and facing a winter in which more than six feet of snowfall would be commonplace.

Helicopters are flying round the clock in an attempt to reach survivors of the earthquake, which has already killed at least 79,000 people in Pakistan, according to local officials.

But the quake struck in some of the most remote territory on earth, and the relief effort still has not been able to reach survivors in some mountain valleys.

There are not enough helicopters available in Pakistan, and the aid effort has had to resort to pack horses. Mr Egeland called for more countries to send helicopters, and said there was a need for a "second Berlin air bridge".

Britain said yesterday it was sending three Chinook helicopters to help with the effort, almost two weeks after the earthquake struck. The US already has helicopters in operation, but the West has been slow to react to Pakistan's pleas, and has been shown up by Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world, which sent four military helicopters to its neighbour three days after the quake.

"Tens of thousands of people's lives are at stake and they could die if we don't get to them in time," said Mr Egeland.

Nato began an airlift yesterday to get 900 tonnes of aid into Pakistan, including tens of thousands of tents. But the UN has warned there may not be enough winterised tents in the world to provide shelters.