NATIONAL

Donors pledge $5.4 billion in aid to Pakistan

B. Muralidhar Reddy

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Saturday secured over $5.4 billion in pledges, in the form of grants and soft loans, from the international community to undo the damage caused by the October 8 earthquake. The damage caused by the quake is assessed at $5.2 billion.

The pledges were made here by 80 delegations from 50 countries, including India, and international organisations during a day-long conference organised by Pakistan to raise money for reconstruction and rehabilitation of the 3.3 million affected by the quake. An estimated 73,000 are dead and an equal number of people seriously injured.

Attended among others by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the outcome of the conference will be a shot in the arm for Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf who is under flak from within for the weak response from the West for earthquake relief despite Islamabad's unequivocal support to the international war against terrorism.

The decision of the Opposition parties to boycott the conference in protest against the alleged reluctance of the Government to take them on board in the relief and reconstruction efforts did cast a shadow on the high-profile event but failed to have any impact on the enthusiasm of donors in expressing their solidarity with Gen. Musharraf and the people of Pakistan.

Preliminary estimates suggest that of the $5.4 billion pledged by the world community, about $1.9 billion would be in the form of grants and the rest as soft loans. Nearly one-tenth of the relief and reconstruction cost would come from the United States.

At the international donors' conference organised by the United Nations on October 26, Pakistan received pledges to the tune of $2.4 billion. In other words the new pledges made on Saturday were to the tune of $3 billion. Observers are worried as to how many of the pledges would really translate into cash flows considering that only 20 per cent of what has been pledged on October 26 has materialised so far.

The single largest donor country was the United States, which pledged $510 million, including $156 million already donated. Of the 30 countries that offered financial help Saudi Arabia pledged more than $340 million, China $300 million and Iran $ 200 million.

Overwhelmed by the response, Gen. Musharraf told the delegates in his concluding speech that all finances would be utilised transparently on improving the lot of the quake's survivors. "Your support clearly indicates that the world community is with us, your understanding at this hour of need will never be forgotten," he said where pledges outweighed the initial reconstruction cost put at $5.2 billion.

"My deepest appreciation and gratitude for the world community for helping Pakistan in this hour of need. Participation of donors from around the world shows that this world is a global village and this joint heritage of mankind takes countries forward. Pakistan does realise that we need to be an important member in the comity of nations to have a position of respect in the world," Gen. Musharraf said.

Addressing a major concern of donors he held out a categorical assurance that all contributions would be spent clearly and at places as desired by the donors for the well being of the survivors. "Let me assure this gathering that whatever assistance, cooperation and understanding you have shown at this hour, will never be forgotten — the money you have pledged will be accounted for and spent transparently."

He announced plans for holding a similar conference of Pakistanis from around the world to raise the shortfall and meet the target. "I know that with the resources available now, with the support of the international community, the NGOs and with the determination, zeal and patriotism of the people of Pakistan and the strategising by the Government of Pakistan, I have no doubt that we will deliver and convert this challenge into an opportunity for the poor people of the affected areas."