Family head during the first test
View of the camp

Pakistan earthquake – The Munich Re Foundation acts

Winter protection and clean drinking water are still unavailable for hundreds of thousands of people. The Munich Re Foundation contributes towards disaster relief.

The starting point
Countless inhabitants of the mountain regions in northern Pakistan (Kashmir) are still without proper shelter following the severe earthquake on 3 October 2005, in which at least 85,000 people lost their lives. The international community of states currently puts the number of people affected at 3.3 million (compared with the figure of 5 million following the tsunami in December 2004). The catastrophe occurred immediately before the onset of winter, which, on the foothills of the Himalayas, is very severe. Unlike after the tsunami disaster, donations have been comparatively modest, so that there is a shortage of relief goods and facilities. Accommodating the people in winter shelters to protect them from the elements and providing them with the resources they need to survive are the most essential measures in this phase of the relief operation.

One of the urgent problems besides shelter is clean drinking water. As far as the job of supplying the people with water is concerned, the authorities are first concentrating on the major cities. Sanitary conditions outside the camp setting are therefore catastrophic, which makes it all the more important to help establish a rudimentary supply of water and sanitary facilities at the makeshift settlements in the quake region as a means of preventing infections and further diseases. Children and pregnant women are especially prone to severe gastrointestinal diseases, which are often fatal.

Drinking-water filters as an emergency aid

With its unique experts and facilities, Germany's federal disaster relief agency (THW) is a world leader when it comes to securing of drinking-water supplies. The catastrophic situation will keep the THW's workers in Pakistan much longer than is usually the case with such missions. The Munich Re Foundation has donated a stock of winter tents and has launched an initiative in conjunction with the THW to provide victims with emergency drinking-water kits.

With the aim of supplying some 1,000–2,000 people with clean drinking water, it is purchasing drinking-water filters specially designed for small groups and distributing them to families outside the relief camps. These devices are easy to use, require little maintenance, and will enable the families to produce their own supply of clean drinking water until the local public water system has been restored. A sum of approx. €10 is needed to provide one person with short-term relief in the form of clean drinking water for a period of roughly 100 days. This serves to get the people's private hygiene situation under control and substantially improves the chances of survival.

Implementing the measure

In order to ensure that the kits are properly distributed to the needy, the THW's local partner, the Dosti Foundation, decided to concentrate the effort on a "makeshift" refugee camp in the town of Balakot, 95% of which is in ruins. Some 150 families with a total of about 1,000 refugees live in this hillside camp. The majority of them come from surrounding mountain villages that could not be reached directly by relief teams. The THW and the Dosti Foundation began distributing the drinking-water filters early in January.

Before distributing the filters, one per family, the Dosti Foundation staff gave instructions on how to use them. The people were also informed in Urdu, the local language, on the storage and hygienic use of water. Each family was given a leaflet with these instructions, translated into Urdu by local THW staff.The information was passed on to groups of 10 to 15 people in sessions each lasting half an hour. By checking off the names on the list of camp inhabitants, the THW ensured that only one filter was issued to each family. A further 150 filters will be distributed over the next few days.

Summary

The water filters have been very well received and are already in wide use.  This example shows that relief can reach its goal if we are able to find the right relief groups and experts in disaster areas and become their partners.