RICH COUNTRIES should give more money to poor ones. But it's even more obvious that, when they do give money, they should do so in a helpful way. The United States, for example, should not promise food for famine victims half a world away, then allow those victims to starve because it insists that the food must be bought domestically and shipped across the ocean on American vessels. Yet this and other forms of "tied aid" are common. A Bush administration plan to untie part of U.S. food aid is being held up in Congress.

The latest example of uncharitable charity comes from the Kashmir earthquake. Some 80,000 people have died as a result of the quake, nearly all of them in Pakistan, but relief workers say that the death toll is sure to rise further unless help arrives immediately. About 3 million people are homeless, many of them in inaccessible mountain villages, and the punishing Himalayan winter arrives soon. People need shelter and food to survive the freezing temperatures, but bad weather is already hampering helicopter relief missions, and once the winter sets in, further relief may become impossible. Medical help is even more urgent. At least 75,000 people were severely injured by the quake, and many are suffering infections for lack of timely medical care. Limbs that could have been saved must now be amputated.

Against this background, the United Nations convened a conference of donors yesterday. Rich countries stepped forward with pledges of $580 million. But less than $16 million of that was for immediate relief, leaving the United Nations with just a fifth of what it says it needs over the next few weeks. A new $251 million pledge from the Islamic Development Bank is supposed to be spent on long-term reconstruction, and the same is true of an earlier pledge for $333 million from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. The European Commission has promised $96 million for reconstruction, but just over $2 million for immediate use. In a rare instance of understatement from a relief official, Jan Egeland of the United Nations commented: "It is, in my view, not right to sit with reconstruction money for one year from now if we're not sure whether those people will be alive one year from now."

The earthquake was a natural tragedy; the postdated checks from donors are a man-made one. What's needed now is cash that can be spent immediately, along with more helicopters; the relief agency Oxfam has also called for tents to be released from military stockpiles, because suitable ones can't be procured on the world market fast enough. Pakistan's government could help by setting aside historical suspicion and accepting India's offer of helicopters, rather than objecting to the fact that Indian helicopters come with Indian crews. But the outside world, and particularly the United States and its allies, have an interest in doing their part. Kashmir is home to Islamic terrorists whose war against the Indian government does not preclude attacks on Western targets. If the West stands by while thousands die from infections and hypothermia, it will fuel the anger from which the terrorists gain.