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Quake Aid to Pakistan Now at $5.8 Billion

November 20, 2005|From Associated Press

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Nations pledged a whopping $3.4 billion in new earthquake aid for Pakistan at a donor conference, but aid groups said Saturday that much of it was in loans that will heap more debt on the impoverished country.

Pakistan nonetheless hailed the meeting as a success, with President Pervez Musharraf thanking the almost 80 participating nations and international agencies for "helping Pakistan in this hour of need." He said the gesture "will never be forgotten."

The conference followed weeks of largely unheeded warnings from the United Nations and aid groups that thousands of people could die of hunger, exposure and disease unless money arrives before the harsh Himalayan winter sets in. The quake killed at least 86,000 people in Pakistan, and hundreds of thousands of people face a season of suffering as temperatures dip well below freezing in the mountains.

Acute respiratory illnesses are on the rise among the 3.2 million people displaced by the magnitude 7.6 quake on Oct. 8, and there have been outbreaks of diarrhea, scabies, tetanus and other diseases.

The new pledges raise the total to $5.8 billion -- slightly more than the government said it needed to rebuild.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said the country was "very satisfied" with the aid pledges but noted that about two-thirds of the money was in the form of loans.

Aid groups said that meant the pledges were a mixed bag. Jane Cocking, humanitarian coordinator in Pakistan for the British charity Oxfam, said the new debt would be detrimental in the long term to those suffering from the quake.

Most of the loans are long term and have low interest rates.

The United States' aid pledge to Pakistan, a key ally in the U.S.-declared war on terrorism, has nearly tripled -- to $510 million, including $300 million in cash.

Washington also has sent 1,200 troops, two dozen helicopters, heavy equipment and two mobile hospitals to the quake zone.

Musharraf and Aziz promised that the money would be used wisely and honestly.

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