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Pakistan: Former U.S. President Calls For More Earthquake Relief Funds

Clean water and sanitation are in desperate need among survivors (AFP) October 7, 2006 -- Almost a year after the 7.6-magnitude earthquake that hit northern Pakistan and parts of India, those involved in relief efforts say more funding is required to help those affected.

The call for more funding for earthquake survivors was made on October 6 in a press conference by former U.S. President George Bush, a special UN envoy to the 2005 South Asian earthquake disaster, and Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan's minister For economic affairs and statistics.

The earthquake killed 73,000 people and left over 3.5 million homeless. Bush said a year after the quake, only two-thirds of $225 million in donor pledges have been fulfilled.

"I'd like to highlight the fact that we're still missing $94 million, which is critical for bridging the gap from relief to recovery," Bush said. "The sectors that remain underfunded are water and sanitation, housing, and support to vulnerable people."

Hundreds Of Thousands At Risk

The call for more funding comes as many of the quake survivors are still living in precarious conditions.

Several international relief agencies, including the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, have already warned that hundreds of thousands of survivors are at risk as they face another winter in poor shelter.

According to the international aid agency Oxfam, 1.8 million survivors are still living in tents or makeshift shacks.

At the October 6 press conference, Rabbani Khar disputed that figure and said that only about 35,000 people were still living in tents.

She said efforts were being made to provide permanent shelters for those who don't have a roof above their heads. She also appealed for more funding to help with the rehabilitation of the survivors.

"One of the challenges continues to be to be able to manage the transition between relief and reconstruction and that is one of the reasons why the UN and ERA, the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority, launched what was the early recovery plan, worth $255 million in May," Rabbani Khar said.

"This has been funded to the tune of about two-thirds," she added. "The sectors which are largely underfunded in this early recovery plan are health, water, and sanitation support to vulnerable people."

Official Corruption Another Obstacle

Reuters reported today that several hundred earthquake survivors staged a protest outside the Pakistani parliament in Islamabad, accusing officials in charge of reconstruction of corruption.

Protesters were waving placards that said "stop taking bribes," "spend the winter with us," and "build our homes before snowfall".

Oxfam has also said in a report that administrative problems and corruption had compounded difficulties for victims.

But Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has dismissed the criticism, saying that reconstruction activities are going well. On October 5, Musharraf urged the international community to provide more money to help rebuild areas destroyed by last year's quake.