Nations pledge more in Pakistan flood aid

In Asia, Floods & Storms, News Headlines

UNITED NATIONS – Nations and groups supporting Pakistan’s democratic advances promised Sunday to give the country millions of dollars more in flood aid, but some insisted that Pakistan itself must lead the way on recovery and account publicly for all funds.

The new pledges came two days after the U.N. made its largest disaster appeal ever, asking the world’s governments to raise a total of $2 billion for Pakistani flood victims.

The floods have killed more than 1,700 people and damaged or destroyed nearly 1.9 homes since the raging waters began spreading across the country six weeks ago. Food, shelter and other emergency aid is still being supplied to displaced people in areas that remain under water.

“It’s a catastrophe of enormous proportions,” Josette Sheeran, executive director of the U.N.’s World Food Program, told The Associated Press before the meeting. “I’ve never seen a population weaker than this. They already had high levels of malnutrition before the flooding.”

Most of the 6 million people the U.N. food agency is trying to feed were agricultural workers who lost their crops and seeds to replant, Sheeran said. Markets were washed away, and farm trade among thousands of villages halted.

Sheeran said the WFP is now providing basic food baskets of wheat, oil, sugar, tea and beans to affected families, as well as high-nutrition ready-to-eat date biscuits for adults and a paste made of chickpeas for small children.

During Sunday’s high-level ministerial meeting at U.N. headquarters, Britain committed an additional $109 million toward relief efforts, more than doubling the $100 million earlier pledged, and the United States raised its pledge to $345 million. The U.S. total included $75 million that the U.S. Agency for International Development announced Sunday it was giving to the WFP.

Still, Louis Belanger, spokesman for the global aid organization Oxfam International, called Sunday’s meeting “yet another letdown by the international community.”

“We have a long way to go before we reach the target amount of $2 billion, as key donors keep postponing the delivery of much-needed humanitarian relief money,” Belanger said in a statement. “While some donors are dragging their feet and wait for future meetings to make their pledges a reality, the affected people of Pakistan are the ones (who) suffer.”

The latest pledges came at a meeting of the so-called Friends of Pakistan, which was formed two years ago to support the country’s moves toward democracy.

European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton said the EU had already contributed about $315 million and encouraged nations to give more.

“I believe that the severity of this crisis demands an immediate and substantial response, taking into account the importance of Pakistan’s development, security and stability,” Ashton said.

Jean-Maurice Ripert, U.N. special envoy for Pakistan assistance, told the AP after the meeting that members of the ‘friends’ group are insisting that Pakistan take a leadership role in its own recovery and “make a certain number of decisions in terms of governance, accountability”

“We look to the Pakistani government to help shape a strategy that reflects the needs of its people,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the meeting, led by U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-moon. “And Pakistan must also lead by instituting the reforms that will pave the way to self-sufficiency.”

Clinton also urged Pakistan to “establish a structure to expedite and bring transparency, oversight, and accountability to the reconstruction.”

World Bank President Robert Zoellick said the relief push will work only if Pakistan “takes ownership” of reconstruction.

“We have to work through Pakistani institutions,” he said. The World Bank last week raised its relief pledge to $1 billion.

The Asian Development Bank, meanwhile, promised $500 million in loans and guarantees.

“The people of Pakistan are resilient, they are determined to build a better Pakistan,” Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told reporters after the meeting. “I want to assure the international community that every dollar being contributed will be well spent in a transparent manner. ”

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