Sun, Nov 20, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Relief for Pakistan urgent: Annan

A CALAMITY The UN secretary-general called for an `unprecedented response' to the quake that killed 86,000 people, saying less than 10 percent of pledges had been given


UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged a 50-nation donors' conference to launch an "unprecedented response" to South Asia's massive earthquake, while Pakistan's president yesterday said the calamity provided "an opportunity of a lifetime" to resolve the half-century dispute with India over divided Kashmir.

Pakistan's government is seeking US$5.2 billion to rebuild the ravaged north, where entire towns were flattened and some 86,000 people died. Another 1,350 died in Indian territory. The government says about US$.2.4 billion has been pledged, but less than 10 percent has been given.

The UN, facing its own shortfall of quake donations, warned relief efforts could collapse without sustained funding.

"The earthquake of Oct. 8 was an unprecedented disaster. It requires us to mount an unprecedented response," Annan told representatives from about 50 countries -- including India -- about half of them ministers and deputy ministers.

"There are urgent humanitarian needs that demand our continuing attention. The difficult terrain makes this one of the most challenging relief operations ever undertaken," he said.

The Asian Development Bank yesterday pledged to provide about US$1 billion to Pakistan for earthquake relief. It was not immediately clear how much of that money was included in the government's figure for total pledges.

"We are now in a race against time," Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said.

About 3 million people lost their homes in the quake, with hundreds of thousands still living in flimsy tents and an unknown number with no shelter at all. With snow already falling in the quake zone and a harsh Himalayan winter forecast, time is fast running out to prevent a second wave of deaths from exposure, hunger and disease.

President Pervez Musharraf said the calamity provided an "an opportunity of a lifetime" for Pakistan and archrival India to improve relations and resolve their dispute over Kashmir.

"If leaders fail to grasp fleeting opportunities, they fail their nations and peoples," Musharraf told the conference. "Let this be the Indian donation to Kashmir."

Since the quake, civilian crossings between the South Asian rivals have been delayed by bureaucratic wrangling and Indian fears that Islamic militants might infiltrate from Pakistan. India has also offered US$25 million in aid, and Musharraf said it would receive corrugated metal sheets for rebuilding homes.

On Friday, Annan toured the quake zone and chided nations for a "weak and tardy" response to the quake, and seemed to lower expectations for the conference, saying if enough money wasn't raised he would try for additional funding later. UN agencies have received cash donations of only US$119 million, with another US$40 million in pledges, out of US$550 million it has been seeking since last month to finance emergency relief over six months.

Among the most pressing needs are warmer shelters to guard against nighttime temperatures that can drop to minus 12?C. Infants and children are most at risk.

In Geneva on Friday, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that relief efforts will "collapse like a house of cards" should the aid flow stop, but that enough money is arriving to keep the operation functioning.

Aziz said Pakistan could not finance the massive cost of reconstruction and rehabilitation on its own "without putting a major dent in our development plans."

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