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U.N. may scale back quake-zone deliveries
Updated: 2005-11-03 21:31

The World Food Program warned Thursday that it may be forced to scale back vital aid flights for victims of the South Asia quake within days if it does not receive more donations.

The commander of U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan said during a visit to the hard-hit city of Muzaffarad that the U.S. military would keep up its work on behalf of victims for months. American helicopters and troops have been diverted from Afghanistan to quake-recovery efforts,

"It's a huge effort, it's got to be a sustained effort, and we're here with our Pakistani friends, with our allies, working as a team to get this massive mission done," Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry said.

The U.N. food program warned last week that without more donor money it would soon be forced to reduce — or halt altogether — helicopter flights to areas affected by the Oct. 8 quake, which killed about 80,000 people and left more than 3 million homeless.

"As we stand, we just can't carry on flying these things. It'd be safe to say that within the next three or four days, we'll have to look at scaling back," Robin Lodge, spokesman for the WFP, said Thursday.

The agency, which would like to have 22 helicopters in the air but so far has only 17, has asked for $100 million for relief efforts over the next six months, but donors have supplied only a tenth of that, Lodge said.

The flights fan out in Pakistan's portion of Kashmir, where the quake was centered, to rugged mountain towns where helicopters can provide the only access to thousands of residents whose survival is becoming increasingly precarious as winter approaches.

Survivors among the region's overwhelming Muslim population flocked to food markets to prepare for Eid, the Muslim celebration that follows the fasting month of Ramadan and was expected to start Friday depending on sightings of the moon.

But there was little splurging on the new clothing, toys and sweets customarily purchased this time of year.

"Very few people are buying and they're only buying basic necessities," such as cooking oil, flour, and bread, said Shujuat, 25, the co-owner of a general store on the outskirts of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan's portion of Kashmir.

"We feel grief and pain in our hearts, and we're just thinking about how to get by," said Shujuat, who goes by one name only.

The quake also devastated the portion of Kashmir controlled by India, though far less than Pakistan, and the disaster brought the two nuclear-armed rivals closer in a time of need. In a landmark agreement, they plan to open five crossing points along their heavily fortified frontier on Monday to allow Kashmiris to visit relatives and get aid at relief camps at the border.

On Thursday, India announced that it cleared the main road leading the frontier; it remains blocked on the Pakistani side because of landslides unleashed by the 7.6-magnitude quake.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Anthony Wayne said overnight that the United States would be "standing with Pakistan in the long run" in reconstruction efforts. U.S. teams will begin arriving in Pakistan over the weekend to assess its needs, based on reports by World Bank and other development agencies.

Wayne said Pakistan has estimated it needs $5 billion in "near-term" relief. He did not say how much Washington was prepared to contribute, but noted that the U.S. has so far committed $156 million for relief and reconstruction and that American citizens have donated an additional $40 million.

Pakistan's government in Wednesday raised the official death toll from the quake to 73,000 — from the previous count of 57,597 — after more bodies were retrieved from debris, bringing the central government's figures closer to the number reported by local officials.

Officials in Pakistan's part of Kashmir and North West Frontier Province say the quake killed at least 79,000 people in Pakistan. In Indian-controlled Kashmir, an additional 1,350 people died.

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