Pakistan flood aid donations reach $500m

US, Saudi Arabia and UK lead donors as country faces 'weeks, months and years of need'.

ISLAMABAD// The UN chief Ban Ki-moon praised the global community as emergency donations for Pakistan neared US$500 million, but warned that the flood-stricken nation faces "years of need". The Financial Tracking Service, a UN database that aims to track all donations, showed late ysterday that $490.7m in funding has been collected, with another $325m pledged. The United States has given the most, followed by Saudi Arabia and Britain.

The UN, which has raised just over half of its 460-million-dollar appeal target, led a meeting on Thursday to rally support for Pakistan, hit by a disaster which Mr Ban described as a "slow-motion tsunami". Yesterday the UN chief welcomed the donations, saying: "The generosity of countries and individuals will make a real difference in the daily lives of millions of people. "We must keep it up. Pakistan is facing weeks, months and years of need."

The floods have left nearly 1,500 people dead. Pakistan's government has faced an outpouring of public fury over sluggish relief efforts and there are growing fears that losses of up to $43 billion could bring economic oblivion. Pakistan's foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who has been appealing for help in the US, said yesterday that it was important to look not only at emergency funding but at long-term needs.

"I would say the initial response was slow because the world was not aware of the magnitude of the challenge. But now I think it is filtering in," Mr Qureshi said. "But that's only the beginning. We have to look at the recovery and the rehabilitation and reconstruction costs as well," he said. Eight million flood survivors in desperate need of food, shelter and clean drinking water require humanitarian assistance to survive, as concerns grow over potential cholera, typhoid and hepatitis outbreaks.

Just over half of the money raised for Pakistan has come from the UN's emergency appeal fund launched on August 11, while the rest came via bilateral aid, chiefly from Saudi Arabia, charities or private organisations and companies. According to the FTS, $263m has been donated via the UN appeal, 57 per cent of its target, with the lion's share of that total, $88m, coming from the United States. The United Kingdom has donated $34.7m via the UN fund while Australia has given $26.6m and the European Commission $18.6m.

Maurizio Giuliano, spokesman for the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Islamabad, said "It is very likely that the need for donations will strongly increase because, since our estimate [of August 11], the number of people in need of immediate humanitarian aid has risen from six to eight million." The UN will have to revise its target within 30 days after the launch of the appeal, Mr Giuliano said.

"We are working on it," he said, adding that the UN had increased its estimate of the number of people without shelter from two million to six million in the first 10 days. "We have already provided shelter for a million people, 106,000 tents and 70,000 blankets, and ordered shelter for a further 2.4 million, which is in the pipeline," he said. "We have more than doubled the rate at which we are delivering relief but, since August 11, the number of people who need emergency help has undoubtedly more than tripled. We are in a race against time."

The UN World Food Programme said it urgently needs helicopters to get food to millions of flood victims who remain cut off by the high waters, although weather forecasters say the monsoon systems are easing off. The agency warned that the floods have killed or are threatening millions of livestock, and launched an urgent appeal for animal feed. The Pakistani-American community is asking the US government to step up assistance, calling it a key opportunity to improve the US image in Pakistan.

They asked for president Barack Obama to push ahead with a long-mooted proposal to give preferential access to Pakistani textiles, an important export hit hard by floods, and to forgive Pakistan's $1.5bn in debt to Washington. * AFP