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U.N. Steps Up Pressure to Raise Funds for Pakistan

Megan Iacobini de Fazio and Matthew Berger*

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 19 2010 (IPS) - The U.N. General Assembly met Thursday to express the world community’s solidarity with the people of Pakistan and to urge member states to step up their aid commitment to the flood stricken country.

Envoys called for “filling the gap” in the initial appeal of 460 million dollars launched last week. So far, only half of that has been pledged.

“Pakistan is facing a slow-motion tsunami,” said Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon, who visited Pakistan last weekend. “This is a disaster, a global challenge. It is one of the greatest tests of global solidarity of our times.”

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Quereshi drew attention to the severe impact the floods have had on the mainly agrarian economy and the dangers of food shortages in the sixth most populous country in the world.

He also stressed that Pakistan is still committed to the fight against terrorism, but added that if the upheaval and economic losses caused by the flood are not dealt with effectively, the hard won gains made by the government in tackling extremism and terrorism may be undermined.

U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton announced that the U.S., already the biggest donor, will give an extra 60 million dollars in addition to the 90 million already pledged. She also said that part of the 7.5 billion dollars that the U.S. will give to Pakistan over the next five years for non-military assistance will be devoted to rebuilding the country’s infrastructure in the mid- to long-term future.

The European Union was represented in the assembly meeting by Belgian Foreign Minister Steven Vanackere. European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton was unable to attend the meeting because as representative of the EU, which is not formally a member of the assembly, she has “no speaking rights”.

However, Ashton said that the EU will increase its assistance to Pakistan by 30 million euros, to reach a total of 105 million euros (135 million dollars).

The list of over 60 speakers included countries such as Georgia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Italy. However, only about half of those countries took the floor as the meeting was adjourned early.

Quereshi claimed that the new pledges were an encouraging sign of solidarity and that he would be returning to Pakistan reassured that the initial 460-million-dollar initial appeal would be reached.

Earlier in the day, several dignitaries made a high-profile appeal for aid before a morning crowd at the Asia Society. The speakers also touched on the ways in which their organisations are helping.

Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, pointed to the successes of U.S. help in response to the 2005 earthquake centred in Pakistan administrated Kashmir. There, the goal was to “build back better”, he said.

Shah hoped the response to this disaster will follow a similar model, using new technology and new strategies to rebuild the infrastructure and communities more resilient than before. “The recovery will take a long time,” said Shah, “but it also affords an opportunity to build back in a better way.”

For now, the focus is simply on helping the people on the ground who are continuing to suffer. Shah said that aid is currently meeting the needs of 700,000 to 1.2 million people, but that this is clearly not enough. About 20 million people have been affected by the floods, as well as 1.7 million acres of productive, planted farmland and the livestock there, he said.

But some are willing to look deeper than the immediate emergency. Billionaire philanthropist George Soros noted the donor fatigue “in responding to these disasters because there are too many of them…They are connected. There is climate change and it has a human cause.” Soros said governments must act to help Pakistan but “must also do something about the root causes,” including reducing fossil fuel emissions.

Foreign Minister Qureshi echoed those climate concerns. He pointed to the combination of high rainfall in the north, increased glacier melt in the Himalayas and unseasonable monsoons as leading to the devastating floods.

As for the U.S. response, U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke says it is “focused solely on helping. We’re not doing it because of Pakistan’s neighbours, we’re doing it because Pakistan matters.”

“We want to be the first with the most assistance, and we have been,” Holbrooke said, though he noted the response will require an international and continued effort.

*Matthew Berger reported from Washington.

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