IMUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan – Health authorities Saturday launched a two-week campaign to immunize 800,000 children in divided Kashmir following concerns that infectious disease could thrive in the crowded and sometimes squalid tent camps for earthquake survivors.
Plans to move survivors from one of the many camps that sprung up spontaneously and without proper sanitation since the Oct. 8 quake sparked a protest Friday by about 200 survivors in the Police dispersed the protesters with canes and rifle butts, injuring some of them. But the camp, capital of Pakistan's portion of Kashmir.at the Jalalabad Garden park in Muzaffarabad, was quiet Saturday after Pakistani police said they had no immediate intention of moving its residents.
Pakistan and India, meanwhile, planned to open a third crossing Saturday at their disputed Kashmir frontier as part of limited cooperation between the fierce rivals since the 7.6-magnitude quake. However, it was expected to involve only a ceremonial swap of quake aid as with the previous two openings — with no crossings by Kashmiri residents.
The immunization campaign by the U.N. children's agency and Pakistan's Health Ministry targets 800,000 children up to age 15 in Pakistani Kashmir with vaccines for diseases including measles, polio, diphtheria and tetanus, said Dr. Edward Hoekstra, a senior health adviser for UNICEF.
The shots also will include vitamin A, which can reduce the mortality rate of respiratory illnesses by up to 50 percent, Hoekstra said.
The senior superintendent of police in Muzaffarabad, Yasin Qureshi, said that public rallies in the city have been banned since Wednesday so that quake relief efforts are not hampered.
He said Friday's violence broke out over a misunderstanding when police sought to meet with tent camp residents over plans to move them to facilities with better sanitation.
"Authorities wanted to have a meeting with the camp residents at 5 p.m., but they misunderstood it as an ultimatum to leave, which created the situation," he said. "Obviously, we could not let them protest, because there is a ban on rallies."
Protesters had said on Friday that police told them they would come with bulldozers to evict them — an allegation police denied. Qureshi said Saturday there were no immediate plans to move the camp residents.
The quake, centered in divided Kashmir, killed about 86,000 people in the Pakistan's portion of the territory and another 1,350 in India. It destroyed bridges, roads, and the homes of more than 3 million people.
Cost estimates come amid growing alarm over shortfalls in donations for quake victims — a stark contrast to the outpouring of aid to those affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in the United States.
The U.N. says it needs $550 million in emergency aid for quake victims, but donors have pledged only about $131 million.