U.S. sets example by pledging $60M more to U.N. for Pakistani flood aid

At least 1,600 are dead and millions are homeless after monsoon rains bloated rivers, submerged villages and triggered landslides in Pakistan.
By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 19, 2010; 4:58 PM

UNITED NATIONS -- The United States pledged an additional $60 million Thursday to the U.N. flood relief effort in Pakistan, bringing its total contribution to $150 million in a move designed to encourage other governments and private donors to boost their aid.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced the new amount at a U.N. donors conference on the disaster, a special session that was also attended by Pakistan's foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other top U.S. and foreign officials.

"Pakistan is facing a slow-motion tsunami," Ban told the delegates. "At least 160,000 square kilometers of land is under water, an area larger than more than half the countries in the world."

At an Asia Society forum on the flood just before the U.N. session, Qureshi said his country had never seen anything like it.

He told the gathering of diplomats, investors, relief officials, journalists and Pakistani Americans: "1919, I'm told, was a mega flood. This far exceeds that." To make matters worse, Qureshi said, the flooding "has struck in an area where we were operating against extremists and terrorists."

Failure to address the disaster "could undermine the hard-won gains made by the government in our difficult and painful war against terrorism," he said. "We cannot allow this catastrophe to become an opportunity for the terrorists."

Qureshi, who was joined by Richard C. Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, singled out the United States for leading the international effort to respond to the calamity.

"Thank you, America," Qureshi said, noting that ordinary Pakistanis recognized the U.S. contributions. "You have shown the world that you are a caring nation."

He also thanked George Soros, the billionaire investor and philanthropist, who announced plans this week to allocate $5 million in flood relief funds to a Pakistan democracy program he runs -- more money than most countries have offered. The Asian Development Bank is also extending $2 billion in low-interest loans over the next two years to help fund a massive reconstruction effort, Holbrooke told reporters.

The U.S. pledge moved the United Nations closer to raising the nearly $460 million it is seeking to pay for relief operations over the next six months. The slowness of the global response to the appeal has prompted criticism of many of Pakistan's closest allies, including China and oil-rich Saudi Arabia.

"I think the Chinese should step up to the plate," Holbrooke told a group of reporters. "They always say Pakistan is their closest ally."

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia pledged to contribute about $105 million in assistance, most in the form of relief supplies. Only about $5 million will be provided in cash to the Pakistan National Disaster Management Authority. None is earmarked for the U.N. appeal. The European Union has also increased its commitment by $39 million to about $90 million.

But Qureshi defended his country's allies, saying that Saudi Arabia has been sending relief planes into Pakistan since the flooding began three weeks ago and that China has provided life-saving assistance to more than 27,000 Pakistanis living near the Chinese border. "They have never let us down in the past, and I don't expect them to let us down now," he said of China.

Qureshi and Holbrooke said they are acutely aware that the Pakistani floods could have enormous strategic implications for their countries' security interests in the region but that their main focus is on saving lives. Still, Holbrooke made it clear that the United States sees the flood as an opportunity to showcase American generosity, saying he and other top diplomats had come up with a slogan.

"We want to be the first in with the most assistance," he said.

Qureshi acknowledged criticism that the Pakistani government was slow to respond when the flooding began.

"Initially there was shock and paralysis, but we are now getting our act together," he said. "We've been struck by this national calamity. We will face it and we will muster the resources and get out of this."

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