10/26/2005, 00.00
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Pope prays for quake victims

The United Nations will appeal for an increase in aid to Kashmir quake victims from 312 to 549 million dollars. The official death toll has risen to 54,000.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – An appeal for a "special prayer for the populations struck by the earthquake and by physical and environmental calamities" was made today by Benedict XVI to people present at the general audience. The call of the pope comes at a time when international attention for Kashmir quake victims appears to be fading, and as the UN prepares to ask for more aid.

Beyond the pontiff's appeal, Masood Khan, Pakistani ambassador to Geneva announced that the United Nations will step up its request for relief aid for Kashmir quake survivors from 312 to 549 million dollars.

The UN launched an appeal to member states immediately after the 8 October quake, calling for emergency aid amounting to 312 million dollars. However so far it has only received 67.8 million, together with "pledges" of another 35 million in the coming six months. The appeal for more money comes in the context of a "donors' conference" in which Pakistan is set to submit a complete account of the destruction and loss in human terms provoked by the 8 October quake which measured 7.6 on the Richter scale.

Also today, Aftab Sherpao, Pakistani minister for the interior, said the death toll has risen to 54,000 and 77,000 people have been injured. Previous official statistics were of 53,182 dead and 75,146 wounded.  

Sherpao said the toll could rise "even more" because searches for corpses under the debris of collapsed buildings were continuing "with difficulty" and because people risked dying because of the cold. "With the harsh winter forecast, we are in a race against time to save people," he said.

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