As nations sharply up pledges, UN seen meeting goal of $460 million for Pakistan flood aid

By Edith M. Lederer, AP
Thursday, August 19, 2010

UN seen meeting aid goal for flood-hit Pakistan

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations appeared to have met its target of $460 million in immediate aid for flood-stricken Pakistan on Thursday after the U.S. and other nations significantly upped their pledges.

The rush of promised help came after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, addressing a hastily called meeting of the General Assembly, urged governments and people to be even more generous than they were in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and this year’s Haiti earthquake, because the floods were a bigger “global disaster” with the Pakistan government now saying more than 20 million people need shelter, food and clean water.

“This disaster is like few the world has ever seen,” Ban told the meeting. “It requires a response to match. Pakistan needs a flood of support.”

Before the meeting, he said, donors had given half the sum the U.N. appealed for to provide food, shelter and clean water to up to 8 million flood victims over the next three months. But Ban insisted all the money was needed now — and much more will be needed later.

After listening to speeches by high-level representatives of some 20 countries, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said he was assured that the $460 million goal “is going to be easily met,” including “$100 million plus” from Saudi Arabia.

Aid groups and U.N. officials had worried about a slow response to the flooding, theorizing that donors who have spent heavily on a string of huge disasters in recent years are reluctant to open their wallets yet again.

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, told reporters before the meeting that he believed that where the tsunami and Haiti catastrophes happened suddenly, “for about 10 days people didn’t realize that this wasn’t just another flood.”

Earlier Thursday, after visiting flood areas with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, U.S. Sen. John Kerry warned of extremists who might “exploit the misery of others for political or ideological purpose, and so it is important for all of us to work overtime.”

Zardari spoke of militants who might take orphaned children “and train them as the terrorists of tomorrow.”

Holbrooke said it’s impossible to assess whether al-Qaida or others are taking advantage of the floods because “we can’t even get in there.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that her government, already the biggest donor, would contribute an additional $60 million, bringing its total to more than $150 million, and that about $92 million would go into the U.N.’s relief coffers.

The European Union raised its pledge to more than $180 million. In addition, Britain said it would double its contribution to nearly $100 million, on top of $25 million in public donations, and Germany raised its aid to $32 million.

Holbrooke warned that “many billions” will eventually be needed to rebuild Pakistan. He challenged other countries, especially China, Pakistan’s close ally, which was recently crowned as the world’s second largest economy, to “step up to the plate.”

China’s intentions were expected to become clear when its representative addresses the second session of the meeting on Friday.

At a gathering before the U.N. meeting, Qureshi said the Chinese had increased their cash assistance, supplied relief goods and taken responsibility for providing food, water and shelter to some 27,000 people in an inaccessible area in the north, “so if you put this all together, it’s substantial.”

For the Obama administration, Pakistan is vital for stabilizing neighboring Afghanistan and enabling American troops to withdraw. Washington has already committed to spending $7.5 billion over the next five years in the country.

“I want the people of Pakistan to know: The United States will be with you through this crisis,” Clinton said. “We will be with you as you replant your fields and repair your roads. And we will be with you as you meet the long-term challenge to build a stronger nation and a better future for your families.”

The floods have affected about one-fifth of Pakistan’s territory — an area larger than Italy or Arizona — straining its civilian government as it also struggles against al-Qaida and Taliban violence.

Qureshi, the Pakistani foreign minister, said every 10th Pakistani “has been rendered destitute,” crops worth billions of dollars have been destroyed, and things are likely to worsen as monsoon rains continue.

He said Pakistan’s army has made “substantial” gains against the terrorists, “But the peace and relative calm achieved … are still fragile and need to be consolidated.”

Famed Pakistani musician Salman Ahmad, who joined Holbrooke and others at the gathering before the U.N. meeting, stressed that 100 million of Pakistan’s 175 million people are under 25 and “feel abandoned by the world.”

They “have two possible futures — one of following their dreams, the other of being sucked into extremism,” he said.

“Right now, the terrorists are counting on the fact that there will be a sluggish response from the international community, because if there is a sluggish response, the terrorists win, the extremists win,” Ahmad warned.

Associated Press Writer Anita Snow contributed to this report from the United Nations.

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