MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan – The U.N. on Friday warned it will run out of money and be forced to ground helicopters delivering earthquake relief supplies to northern Pakistan unless donors come through with the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to see 2.3 million hungry people through the winter.
Jan Vandemoortele (search), U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Pakistan, also urged archrivals India and Pakistan to open the disputed Kashmir border, saying this would help the relief effort — if not solve logistical challenges posed by the formidable Himalayan terrain.
Indian officials were set to arrive in Pakistan late Friday for talks on letting Kashmiris cross the so-called Line of Control (search) — a particularly sensitive issue for New Delhi because of a 16-year Islamic insurgency in India's part of Kashmir by militants seeking the territory's independence or merger with Pakistan.
The Oct. 8 quake is believed to have killed nearly 80,000 people, the vast majority of them in northwestern Pakistan and Pakistan's portion of divided Kashmir (search).
"The situation is quite grim. With the money we have already, and much of it obtained from our own internal emergency reserves, we can keep the helicopters running for one week," Michael Jones of the U.N. World Food Program said in Islamabad.
The U.N. refugee agency also warned that its own reserves of emergency supplies were dangerously low.
With landslides still blocking many roads, helicopters are a lifeline for isolated communities, delivering supplies and ferrying badly injured people to hospitals.
Halting flights would be calamitous for hundreds of communities that have received little aid, weeks before the frigid Himalayan winter hits.
Donor nations meeting in Geneva this week pledged $580 million for quake victims, but much of it hasn't arrived. The U.N. said it had so far received only about 20 percent of the funds needed for its emergency relief effort — a far weaker response than to other recent disasters, such as last year's Indian Ocean tsunami.
Jones, the WFP earthquake emergency relief coordinator, said an estimated 2.3 million people needed food. With its current funds, the agency could help only 500,000 people for two months, he said.
Thousands of survivors are still turning up each day at makeshift clinics, suffering increasingly from disease such as scabies, diarrhea and pneumonia.
More than 3,400 people sought treatment Thursday around the devastated northern town of Balakot — 400 with suspected cases of acute respiratory infection — said Sacha Bootsma, communications officer for the World Health Organization in Islamabad.
On Friday, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf approved $33.3 million for reconstruction of homes, and said tents should be provided to the estimated 800,000 people without shelter within two weeks, according to his spokesman, Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan.
In a goodwill gesture, Pakistani rival India on Wednesday offered $25 million to the U.N. quake appeal.
Indian and Pakistani officials were due to meet Saturday in Islamabad on opening the Line of Control to let Kashmiris cross to help each other rebuild. Vandemoortele said it would help the relief effort if aid workers could access Pakistani Kashmir from the Indian side.
India's military has started work on relief camps along the frontier and says that Pakistan could get building materials such as cement and steel from Indian companies.
However, both sides are yet to work out how to open the frontier amid lingering mutual suspicions about the other's intentions.
A Pakistani Foreign Ministry statement Thursday noted that Pakistani quake victims "do not have to cross the Line of Control find relief assistance."
Maj. Farooq Nasir, an army spokesman in Muzaffarabad — the capital of Pakistani Kashmir — also said Friday that Pakistan has set up two more relief camps near the border.
In Islamabad, police said two municipal officials were arrested for allegedly failing to check faulty construction at an apartment block that collapsed in the capital during the quake — the only building in the city to fall.
The official death toll from the quake in Pakistan rose Friday to 56,000, but central government figures have consistently lagged behind those of local officials, which put Pakistan's toll at about 78,000. Another 1,350 people died in Indian-held Kashmir.
U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker pledged long-term American support on a visit to Muzaffarabad on Friday. "This is a long-term disaster because of the terrain it's in and the approach of winter. We are going to be here for a while," he said at a U.S. Army field hospital that started treating victims in the city this week.