Pakistan to get over US$5bn in quake aid – ISN

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Governments and international organizations have pledged to give over US$5 billion in aid to earthquake-stricken Pakistan.

At a UN- and Pakistani government-sponsored conference, attended by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, over 50 nations and donor organizations on Saturday made promises exceeding the amount sought by the Pakistani government, the UN, and the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.

The money, which is to be given over to emergency relief and long-term reconstruction, is mainly in the form of low interest soft loans.

At a press conference held in Islamabad and attended by ISN Security Watch, prior to the pledges being made, Annan deplored the “weak and tardy” financial support for the emergency relief effort.

He contrasted the Western reaction to the Pakistani quake with the reaction to he Indian Ocean tsunami, citing issues such as the timing of the latter, which he said was “a factor as the tsunami happened at Christmas, a time of giving”, and hinted that Kashmir’s remoteness and lack of a Western tourist presence meant that the severity of the disaster was downplayed in the Western media.

Annan appealed to governments, civil society, and the private sector to band together to provide continuing relief and full recovery from the 8 November disaster.

“Clearly, the sheer impact of the quake is still emerging,” Annan said of the natural disaster, which is so far estimated to have killed some 80,000 people, injured over 100,000, and left up to three million homeless.

Annan spent Saturday touring the devastated city of Muzafferabad, the capital of Pakistani Azad (Free) Kashmir. He said the devastation was “unimaginable; one had to see it to understand what has happened”.

Pakistan’s The News newspaper said in a headline on its front-page story: “Finally, world conscience shaken and stirred. Hope wins the day.”

Pledges include US$1 billion each from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, US$510 million in bilateral assistance from the US, and significant sums from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and China.

Pakistani military president General Pervez Musharraf had publicly questioned Western commitment to the relief effort in the stricken region, citing the lack of Western fatalities as a motive for the lack of interest.

Pakistan is seen as one of the most corrupt nations in the world, according to Transparency International’s 2005 Corruption perceptions Index. The Pakistan government announced a comprehensive public auditing mechanism to ensure that the money given for relief and reconstruction was spent correctly.

“Each and every cent that we receive […] will be used for the earthquake-affected area,” Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said at the end of the conference.

While Pakistan will need all of the money pledged to rebuild the shattered infrastructure of the northern areas affected by the earthquake, the shortfall in the emergency aid need to be addressed rapidly.

Before Saturday, the UN had received less than 30 per cent of its flash appeal for US$550 million for the emergency relief effort. Of the US$5.4 billion pledged on Saturday, over US$1 billion is for the emergency food, shelter, and sanitation work needed to save lives in the short term.

The situation on the ground remains grim, and despite the increased aid pledges, it is questionable whether these can be translated into supplies on the ground before the onset of winter.

Three million people are homeless, hundreds of thousands lack adequate shelter, and the looming winter snow and freezing temperatures mean that aid agencies still face a race against time to get aid to those who need it.

Khaled Mahmoud is a community leader in the Kashmiri village of Pader Mastu. His wife and four of his children died in the 8 October earthquake. He told ISN Security Watch that “we want to stay near our homes, on our land. We thank the international community for all its help, but we need shelter materials quickly before the winter comes”.

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