NATO agreed to send up to 1,000 soldiers to boost Pakistan's overwhelmed relief effort last night as alarm grew over how to cope with a disaster now considered among the most difficult faced by the modern world.
Two weeks after an earthquake ripped across northern Pakistan an epic tragedy is unfolding. About 15,000 mountain settlements have yet to receive aid; international relief is chaotic and underfunded; and hundreds of thousands of survivors are at risk as the bitter Himalayan winter approaches.
President Pervez Musharraf yesterday described as "totally inadequate" the $600m (about £340m) in aid pledged by the international community. He estimated reconstruction costs at $5bn. But immediate worries center on the 3.3 million people made homeless by the quake.
With three weeks before temperatures plummet and snow starts to fall, everything they need for survival - tents, medical care and helicopter transport - is in short supply. But much of the outside world, it seems, is unaware of the scale of the emergency. By last night UN members had funded just over a quarter of the UN's $312m aid appeal. Frustration at the slow response turned to anger.
In Muzaffarabad, the Turkish prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan, announced a $150m donation - the single largest yet - and asked why other countries were not doing more.
"By the end of 2004 the world had put one trillion US dollars into weapons. We have to ask how much the world has put aside for this disaster in Pakistan," he said, after a helicopter tour of the devastation.
Mr Erdogan was the first foreign leader to visit the earthquake zone.
Several UN officials said privately they were unhappy with the response of their headquarters in New York. "They don't understand what we're dealing with here," said one. "This is our biggest relief operation ever. It's unprecedented in scale."
Yesterday in Brussels NATO agreed to send between 500 and 1,000 soldiers, including a battalion of engineers to clear landslides and medics to set up a field hospital. The military alliance is already running an airbridge from Turkey and Germany but the UN emergency coordinator, Jan Egeland, said it was not enough.
He has called for a "second Berlin airlift", a continuous line of flights into the quake zone to bring supplies in and transport survivors out, along the lines of the 1949 operation over East Germany.
NATO commanders say they cannot find enough helicopters. About 69 helicopters are involved in the rescue effort; a further 24 US aircraft and three British Chinooks are due to arrive next week.
India could provide dozens of helicopters but an offer of help is mired in history and politics. India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir. President Musharraf said he would only accept Indian aircraft without their crews. India said no. Mr Egeland called on them to work out a compromise quickly. "These discussions are now holding up a bigger operation and they shouldn't," he said.
Aid groups say coordination of relief is improving. But many are daunted by the challenges of vertiginous mountains, lack of transport and the prospect of winter.
Yesterday in Ghanool, a remote settlement in North West Frontier Province, about 200 desperate villagers fought each other when a mule train arrived carrying milk, bread and biscuits. The chaotic scenes prompted a helicopter that had been about to land and deliver more supplies to turn away.
Road access to some remote areas has been cut off. In a helicopter trip up the Neelum Valley this week the Guardian saw long stretches of road that had disappeared under landslides. Clearing them could take months and is dangerous. In many areas continuous aftershocks - there have been more than 750 since the quake - are causing fresh rock slides.
A shortage of tents is one of the most pressing issues. Most families sleep under tin shelters fashioned from the remains of their homes. Aid workers said some men were sleeping outside, leaving women and children to share tents.
"It's horrible," Hanna Mattinen of Action Against Hunger told AP in Paras, a village where 150 of 1,000 tents needed had arrived. "The needs are just indescribable in terms of shelter."
Between 340,000 and 540,000 tents are needed said Chris Long of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is coordinating shelter. So far 122,000 have been delivered. "It's a huge shortfall but if we don't meet it large numbers of people will die," he said.
Aid agencies are scrambling to procure winter tents as far afield as Zimbabwe, China and Russia. But not enough are available on the world market.
Several IOM officials said they were unhappy with criticism of their operation by the international development secretary, Hilary Benn, during a visit on Thursday. "We simply don't have the resources," Mr Long said. "Our projected need is $80m. So far we have $10m."
Two weeks on - scale of the disaster
UN emergency appeal funds requested
UN emergency appeal funds donated
Number of tents required
Number of tents delivered
Number of working helicopters
Helicopters on the way
Number of dead
Number of homeless
Villages still cut off from relief aid
Source: UN, IOM, regional authorities
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