Pakistan's President appeals for US$5.2 billion in quake aid

Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf on Wednesday appealed to the international community to pledge US$5.2 billion (Ђ4.5 billion) for quake relief and reconstruction, but said his country would help itself if the funds don't come. The United Nations, meanwhile, announced that Secretary-General Kofi Annan would visit Pakistan's quake zone ahead of a donors' conference in the capital of Islamabad on Saturday, and warned that thousands more survivors could yet die from cold, disease and hunger.

Musharraf said that Pakistan had so far received "negligible" funds from donors, but expressed confidence it could raise the US$5.2 billion (Ђ4.4 billion) needed "for relief and reconstruction and sustainable rehabilitation."

"We hope the international community assists us in this hour of need," he told reporters in Rawalpindi, a city near the capital. "We should be able to raise this amount. I have spoken to world leaders and their responses have been very positive."

The magnitude 7.6 quake on Oct. 8 destroyed the homes of about 3 million people, leaving hundreds of thousands living in tents while an unknown number have no shelter at all.

Most of more than 87,000 deaths were in Pakistani territory. About 1,350 died in India's portion of Kashmir, which is divided between the two countries but claimed in entirety by both.

Musharraf said that if the funds he sought were not forthcoming, it would affect Pakistan's development, particularly the social sector. "We will do it ourselves if the world community does not help us," he said, but added that the world should assist Pakistan as it did nations hit by last year's tsunami in Asia, and Hurricane Katrina in the United States.

He said Pakistan would complete its planned distribution of 20 billion rupees (US$335 million; Ђ286 million) to quake survivors within 15 days.

The U.N. said Annan was set to arrive Thursday for a three-day visit, and was expected to visit a camp for displaced people in Muzaffarabad, the main city in the Pakistan portion of Kashmir. He will then hold talks with Musharraf and other top officials before the donors' conference.

The U.N. is stressing the need for more financial support to sustain its emergency relief effort through the winter. It has so far received only US$119 million (Ђ102 million), and another US$40 million (Ђ34.28 million) in pledges out of US$550 million (Ђ470 million) it has been seeking since last month to finance emergency relief over six months.

"The current priority of the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations is to reduce the risk of thousands more deaths from cold, disease and hunger," the U.N. said in a statement issued in Islamabad.

On Wednesday, two British military helicopters joined an increasingly urgent push to send tents, food and other supplies to remote areas, joining a fleet of about 80 choppers being operated by a variety of governments and aid agencies in one of the biggest-ever helicopter airlifts of aid.

"Winter's on its way. The snow line is coming down day by day," British flyer Steve Shell said between takeoffs at Muzaffarabad's tiny airport, carved out of the mountains surrounding the city.

The U.N. had warned last month it might have to cut back flights due to a lack of funds, but on Tuesday said a fresh cash injection of US$14 million (Ђ12 million) will sustain food drops for at least two more months.

Musharraf said the disaster presented an opportunity for Pakistan and India to work together to resolve their long-standing dispute over Kashmir, over which they have fought two wars. He intimated that India should do more to engage Pakistan on the issue.

"You can't clap with one hand. It is an occasion which should be utilized to solve the issue of Kashmir," he said.

On Wednesday, Pakistan and India opened a fifth and final crossing point over the militarized frontier and exchanged relief goods but, like at the other four points opened in the past two weeks, no people were allowed to cross between Haji Pir and Uri, reports the AP. I.L.

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Author`s name: Editorial Team