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Winter Trebles Illnesses In Pakistan Quake Zone

A Pakistani Kashmiri earthquake survivor mother takes care of her injured son at a hospital in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, 30 November 2005. Winter weather in Pakistan's quake zone has tripled the number of people treated in hospital, with more than 1,000 a day seeking help for pneumonia and other ailments, officials said. AFP photo by Banaras Khan.

Muzaffarabad (AFP) Nov 30, 2005
Winter weather in Pakistan's quake zone has tripled the number of people treated in hospital, with more than 1,000 a day seeking help for pneumonia and other ailments, officials said Wednesday.

But the United Nations dismissed local media reports that eight people had died, saying it was still only aware of two children amongst the 3.5 million people left homeless by the October 8 disaster who had perished.

"The daily number of patients coming to the hospital is around 150, they are mainly children and old people," said Bashir Rahman, the chief executive of the main hospital in Muzaffarabad, the devastated capital of Pakistani Kashmir.

He said many people were also turning up at the 22 field hospitals in Muzaffarabad, so the rate of people seeking treatment for pneumonia and acute respiratory infections across the city was "definitely more than 1,000".

"This number is unusual," added Rahman. "It's mot unusual to have these kinds of diseases in this season but we estimate the number has tripled because of the lack of proper shelter."

"People are living in tents, and there people do not have proper facilities to shield themselves from the cold."

Harsh winter weather began at the weekend and the UN has repeatedly warned that the bitter Himalayan climate could cause a second wave of deaths from cold, disease and hunger.

The death toll from the 7.6-magnitude earthquake currently stands at more than 73,000 in Pakistani-administered Kashmir and northern Pakistan, as well as 1,300 in India.

The UN's emergency coordinator in Pakistan, Jan Vandemoortele, visited Muzaffarabad Wednesday and said he was encouraged by what he had seen but added that the race against time to help survivors continues.

"I was here on the 10th of October and now I am back here I see this is a very different place," Vandemoortele said.

"The most rewarding thing to see is that people have taken charge of their lives, the economic activity is growing, the spontaneous reconstruction is growing, children are going back to school," he added.

"But this is very important -- we cannot be complacent, nobody can relax, we still have a huge job to do."

Vandemoortele said there was still a possibility that without food and proper shelter many more people could die, especially the thousands of people still left in the mountains where snow had started to fall.

Sprawling tent camps for homeless people in Muzaffarabad and other badly-hit cities also needed help, especially with sanitation, he said.

"These are the big unfinished jobs and we have very little time. So the race against time continues," Vandemoortele added.

The official said that donor countries had given 150 million dollars in confirmed cash to a 550-million dollar UN appeal and another 60 million was in the pipeline.

"But we need to clinch at least twice the amount that we have already got in the next two months, because we have to be able to continue this operation throughout the winter," he said.

United Nations spokesman Ben Malor said they had reports that a young girl and a three-month-old boy had died of suspected pneumonia earlier in the week, while a man thought to have died of hypothermia had terminal cancer.

He said there were no reports of other deaths but UN agencies were continually checking on the situation.

A moderate earthquake measuring 5.0 on the Richter scale jolted northwestern Pakistan early Wednesday but there were no reports of casualties, Seismological Department officer Mohammad Irfan told AFP.

Tremors were felt in Chitral on the Afghan border at 6:57 am (0157 GMT) and the epicentre was located in the Hindu Kush mountain range, he said.

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