Reconstruction to begin in quake hit Kashmir next week

Reconstruction work will begin in Pakistan's part of Kashmir next week, the top elected official in the area announced Monday, just days after donors pledged US$5.8 billion (Ђ5 billion) to rebuild the quake-shattered region. "New villages, towns and cities will emerge from the rubble, and you will see it soon," said Sardar Sikandar Hayat, the prime minister in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. "We will start reconstruction work next week."

About 3 million people, mostly in Pakistan's part of Kashmir, lost their homes in the Oct. 8 temblor. Hundreds of thousands now live in flimsy tents and an unknown number have no shelter at all. Thousands of schools, hospitals and government buildings collapsed.

Hayat said he has already asked officials to submit reconstruction plans and that he hopes to have them in hand soon.

Donors pledged loans and grants worth US$3.4 billion (Ђ2.9 billion) on Saturday to assist in the reconstruction of Kashmir, taking total international pledges to US$5.8 billion.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who initially appealed for US$5.2 billion (Ђ4.5 billion) in reconstruction and relief aid, said the gesture "will never be forgotten."

Pakistan has received US$210 million (Ђ178 million) in cash, including US$10 million (Ђ8.6 million) from bilateral creditors and US$200 million (Ђ170 million) from the World Bank as an emergency loan, since the earthquake hit Kashmir and northwestern Pakistan, killing 87,000 people and making millions homeless. It's estimated that half of those who died in quake were children.

The government remains optimistic that international aid will eventually exceed US$6 billion (Ђ5.14 billion), The News newspaper quoted Salman Shah, financial adviser to Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, as saying in Monday's edition.

Aid agencies say that because snow has already started falling in the quake zone, time is fast running out for efforts to prevent a second wave of deaths from exposure, hunger and disease.

They say the bitterly cold weather has already caused a slew of acute respiratory infections, while poor sanitation and a lack of clean water in the camps for people displaced in the disaster produce thousands of cases of diarrhea, the skin infestation scabies and other communicable diseases every day, reports the AP. I.L.

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