Pakistan delays F16 deal to help victims

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The Independent Online

And he castigated the West for the shortfall in aid donations which is hampering the race to save the survivors. With winter snows weeks away, there is a desperate need for shelter in the quake-ravaged settlements in north Pakistan cut off by landslides.

Many quake survivors are maimed, or psychologically scarred after seeing their relatives buried alive. Medical evacuation by helicopter has scattered families the length of Pakistan.

President Musharraf's postponement is a dramatic policy reversal. Just last week, he vowed not to slash his defence budget to cover the costs of evacuating Himalayan villages, erecting tent cities, and rebuilding communities and infrastructure destroyed by the 7.6 magnitude tremor. Officials say $5bn (£2.8bn) will be needed to repair the damage.

General Musharraf was touring a new US Army field hospital in Muzaffarabad, the destroyed capital of Pakistani-ruled Kashmir, when he talked of the fleet of $25m jets, promised after years of US sanctions. "I am going to postpone that [purchase]," he said. "We want to bring maximum relief and reconstruction effort."

Then, comparing the world's response to the plight of earthquake victims with the unprecedented outpouring of charity after the Boxing Day tsunami, General Musharraf accused the West of double standards. Few tourists from Europe or the US were caught up four weeks ago when the earthquake smashed through mountain communities with names unfamiliar on travel brochures.

"The damage here is much more [than the tsunami], the magnitude of the calamity here is much more," General Musharraf told the BBC, and urged the international community, the Muslim world and ordinary Pakistanis to give more generously.

Jan Egeland, the United Nation's humanitarian co-ordinator, said £74m had been collected in aid, but that this amount was only 20 per cent of the minimum required to cope with the emergency. More donations are urgently needed.

"If people are dead by next year, reconstruction is of no use," he said. "I've never seen this kind of a logistical nightmare before. We have 15,000 devastated villages." More than 40 communities have been completely neglected by rescue or assessment teams because roads are impassable, Pakistani officials said.

And Oxfam warned that quake survivors crowding into squalid tent cities in the lower altitudes face dire conditions. Many of the temporary camps have been flung up hastily on flood plains with inadequate drainage. Oxfam engineers have restored clean water to 100,000 people in the worst-affected areas, such as Balakot, and plan to provide water to a further 500,000. Latrines and piped water are a priority.

But concern for the displaced earthquake victims is rising; government officials are keen to evacuate tens of thousands of survivors, who must leave their shattered homes before temperatures plummet and they face death from exposure.

If families descend to tent cities in the towns, provisions will be easier to distribute. Yet mounting numbers in these camps are making living conditions unsafe. "The thousands of people in remote villages are in serious danger, especially when the snows come," Jane Cocking, an Oxfam spokes-person, said. "But the plight of those in camps has not received the same attention.

"Unless conditions are improved in camps, diseases such as cholera could spread. The deaths could far exceed those in danger in their villages."

Respiratory disease is rampant and tetanus is increasing; 113 new cases have been recorded, and 22 have died. Aid agencies fear time will run out before help can reach the three million homeless who face the Himalayan winter.