NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Nearly 200,000 people have been hit by two major earthquakes in southwestern Pakistan over the last nine days, but insecurity and poor infrastructure are hampering efforts to get relief to survivors, aid groups said on Thursday.
The chief secretary of Baluchistan last week put the death toll at 515, but according to official figures, 376 people died and 185,000 people need aid such as food and shelter after a 7.7 magnitude quake struck Baluchistan province on Sept. 24. This was followed by another 7.2 magnitude earthquake four days later.
However, aid workers say they are facing serious challenges in getting relief to survivors in the worst-hit districts of Awaran and Kech, where remote villages are scattered and attacks by separatist rebels have increased.
“The scale of the disaster is big, but the pace of response has been slow due to the situation on the ground,” said Adnan Bin Junaid, head of programmes for Islamic Relief.
"Both insecurity caused by separatists who are present in the area and poor infrastructure have made it difficult to reach people who need aid. Our staff on the ground are finding many survivors who still haven't received any help."
Rebels in Baluchistan - a vast, lawless region bordering Afghanistan and Iran - are fighting for independence from Pakistan. They accuse the central government of stealing the province's rich mineral deposits and the security forces of widespread human rights abuses.
Since the disaster struck last week, there has been a spate of attacks on army and paramilitary troops, with rebels accusing the army of sending in troops under the guise of aid delivery.
Two soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb near Awaran on Wednesday, while last week two rockets narrowly missed a military helicopter carrying aid. There have been several attacks on relief convoys.
NO SHELTER AND FOOD
Local aid workers say tens of thousands of mud-and-brick homes were reduced to rubble, leaving many families living amidst the ruins of their homes, or in tents beside the debris.
There is not enough drinking water as handpumps - which were the main source of water in the region - have been damaged. Reports of relief trucks being looted have emerged, raising concerns for the need to find secure storage facilities.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that survivors should move to relief camps so that their needs can be adequately addressed, but local people are reluctant to move into camps.
"The displaced people are living under the open sky with no shelter and food. There is dire need to convince the community and establish IDP camps in the area," said a WHO statement.
It said that the area’s climate is hot, and there is an extreme shortage of safe drinking water. Health units are reporting a number of cases of malaria and diarrhoea, which may rise in coming days and result in outbreaks, it added.
The central government in Islamabad says it has the capacity and resources to respond to the disaster and has refrained from calling for international assistance.
While it has permitted foreign and local charities already working in the area to respond, it has prohibited other aid groups from outside Baluchistan moving into the area due to security concerns.
But Islamic Relief's Junaid said that local authorities in Baluchistan appear to be against the decision and believe the international community should get more involved.
"The chief minister of Baluchistan has been in the media calling for support from the international community which indicates that the relief efforts are not up to the mark at the moment," he said. "The disaster requires a proactive role on the part of the international community as well."