The world proved over the weekend that it is not afflicted with donor fatigue. Donor nations have pledged $5.8 billion to Pakistan for reconstruction and disaster relief in response to the devastating Oct. 8 earthquake, more than the $5.2 billion Pakistan had requested.
The world clearly has the will to help. If Pakistan does not receive the cash quickly, though, Pakistan will suffer a second wave of devastation as winter descends on the Himalayan people who lack the basic resources to survive. Donor countries should announce when they expect to deliver their pledged assistance.
In Pakistan, the most affected country, the earthquake killed at least 73,380 people and has left about 3 million homeless. Many of those affected live in the Himalayan region of Kashmir, a disputed territory which both Pakistan and India control a portion of. The Kashmiris can expect to soon see three to 12 feet of snow pile up outside their tents and improvised shelters, and temperatures could dip as low as 10 to 15 degrees below zero. In Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, about 90 percent of the buildings have been destroyed. The Kashmiris are a resourceful people, long accustomed to the harshest of conditions, but without shelter, flour and other basic food, they will not be able to survive the winter. It costs about $13 million per month just to keep those made homeless from the earthquake alive. The United Nations has said it will run out of relief money by the end of the year, unless they quickly receive more resources.
The post-earthquake relief phase is particularly expensive and is lasting a relatively long time because of the expanse and inaccessibility of the territory affected and the number of people left homeless. About 2,358 miles of roads were made impassable by the earthquake in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. U.N. workers have dubbed their relief effort Operation Winter Race.
Saturday’s donor conference led to a dramatic turnaround in aid pledges. Before the conference, the United Nations had received about 22 percent of the $550 million it requested for the emergency relief. The response contrasts with the reaction to the December 2004 tsunami disaster, when 80 percent of the desired funds were received in 10 days. Saturday’s turnaround may be attributable to the location of the conference. While a late October conference was staged in Geneva, Saturday’s conference was held in Islamabad, giving delegates the opportunity to visit the suffering regions.
Also positive is the mix of nations offering substantial aid. Saudi Arabia pledged $573 million, the largest amount of any other country, followed by the United States, which boosted its commitment to $510 million from a previous $156 million. The United States will give $300 million in cash, $100 million in private donations and $110 million in military relief services. Pakistan’s erstwhile rival, India, which was also affected by the earthquake, has promised $25 million. China promised $326 million, Iran $200 million, Turkey $150 million, France $124 million, the United Kingdom $120 million, Japan $120 million, the European Union $110 million, Germany $100 million, the United Arab Emirates $100 million and Kuwait $100 million. The Asian Development Bank and the World Bank pledged $1 billion each, and the Islamic Development Bank pledged $500 million. Nearly two-thirds of the money pledged is in the form of loans. Much of the money will go to relief organizations and the United Nations. In deference to donors, the Pakistani government said it will introduce a third-party auditing system to monitor its use of reconstruction funds.
NATO has a field hospital and an engineering team deployed in Kashmir. Spanish and Polish NATO troops have been helping recover bodies from rubble. Britain and the United Nations launched a massive effort last week to get tents and other relief supplies to stricken areas. The U.S. military has contributed 24 helicopters, two field hospitals, engineers and 1,200 troops to the relief effort.
The world has been buffeted by serial natural disasters. Witnessing the famine in Niger, the tsunami in Asia and Katrina in the Gulf Coast may have desensitized people to devastation, and made them less willing to respond to it. America’s budget deficit and the European Union’s fiscal woes can also make aid dollars less forthcoming. In wake of the U.N. oil-for-food scandal, governments and taxpayers have become more concerned about graft and inefficiency. The United Nations must make sure that its own bureaucracy does not get in the way of itself in Pakistan.
It is heartening to see the world’s continued generosity in wake of consecutive disasters of massive proportions. Delays in aid disbursement could still be disastrous for the Pakistani people, though. Donor countries must keep in mind that winter is quickly descending on the Himalayas. Their quick response will aid the race with winter.