MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan on Tuesday proposed allowing Kashmiris to cross the frontier dividing the territory with India to help earthquake victims – the latest sign of cooperation between the nuclear rivals since this month’s disaster.
Pakistani and U.S. military helicopters were delivering aid to hard-hit Muzaffarabad, which has become a relief distribution hub for survivors of the Oct. 8 temblor. But the U.N. World Food Program warned that 500,000 earthquake survivors have yet to receive supplies.
“People don’t just need food – first of all they need shelter, blankets and medical assistance – then food and clean water,” said James Morris, executive director of the WFP.
Relief workers visited one village where an 8-year-old girl died Tuesday of abdominal injuries they said could easily have been treated a short helicopter ride away. The death highlighted the predicament facing thousands of injured stranded in the mountains, many with infections that could turn deadly unless they get medical treatment.
At least 54,000 people died in the Oct. 8 disaster, most in the Pakistani-held part of Kashmir. India reported 1,361 deaths on its side. The United Nations has estimated 3.3 million were left without homes.
“The situation is really disastrous,” said Turkish relief worker Tayyar Wardar, a member of an emergency medical team that flew to Sarli Sachan, the area where the girl died. “They had no medicine, or food. Nobody had been there until now.”
Wardar said some villagers walked more than a day to get help in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan’s portion of Kashmir. Aid workers reached Sarli Sachan in just 10 minutes by helicopter and found 40 people with life-threatening injuries, he said.
President Gen. Pervez Musharraf suggested letting Kashmiris cross the so-called Line of Control in Kashmir, a move that would encourage cooperation between the two neighbors in the disputed region. Kashmir is divided between Pakistan and India, and both nations claim it in its entirety.
“We will allow every Kashmiri to come across the Line of Control to assist in the reconstruction effort,” Musharraf said in Muzaffarabad. He also said that political leaders on both sides should coordinate reconstruction efforts and that he hoped to work out the “formalities” of such an arrangement if India agrees.
India, which has sent quake relief supplies to Pakistan, hailed Musharraf’s proposal but said it was awaiting more details before deciding whether to accept it.