ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Quake-stricken Pakistan heaved a sigh of relief on Sunday after world donors pledged almost $6 billion, and vowed in return to account for every cent as it distributes the aid to survivors of last month”s huge tremor.
Pakistan, seen as one of the most corrupt nations in a recent global survey, secured over $3 billion in fresh pledges at a donor conference on Saturday, taking the total to $5.83 billion, after the United Nations complained of a weak initial response.
"It will help change the lives of millions of people stricken by the tragedy," the News newspaper said in an editorial on Sunday, having headlined its front-page story: "Finally, world conscience shaken and stirred. Hope wins the day."
The October 8 quake killed more than 73,000, mostly in the remote Himalayan region of Pakistani Kashmir and in North West Frontier Province, and left hundreds of thousands homeless.
Fears had grown of a second calamity as winter closes in, threatening people living high in the mountains without proper shelter.
International aid banks and countries more than doubled their pledges at Saturday”s conference in Islamabad, exceeding Pakistan”s target of $5.2 billion, after U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan came to plead for more money.
But in announcing their pledges, mostly in the form of soft loans, several donors, including the biggest, spoke of the need for proper accounting and for all of the cash to be spent on the survivors and on rebuilding their lives and communities.
Proper accounting systems do not yet exist in Pakistan to publicly track the aid money right down to district and village level, international aid group Oxfam said on Sunday.
"Those kind of systems … have not yet been established and they could be established," Oxfam”s South Asia coordinator, Ben Phillips, told Reuters by phone. "There are methods that work and there should not be any reason for not giving money."
Pakistan lies near the bottom of Transparency International”s 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index, ranked 144th beside Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Paraguay, Somalia, Sudan and Tajikistan.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, a general who took power in a coup in 1999, has staked his government”s reputation on an anti-corruption drive. He has assured donors the money will be spent as intended, promising to appoint a foreign auditor, and has defended the military”s dominant role in the relief effort.
"It”s the inclusion of the military that will ensure the transparency and accountability of all the funds that come in," he told reporters in the quake zone last week.
Despite talk that a few donated tents had been pilfered and shown up in shops, or that some aid workers had been conned by bogus tent-suppliers, aid agencies say the money and relief supplies are getting through to the survivors.
"Each and every cent that we receive … will be used for the earthquake-affected area," Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said at the end of the conference. He later told Reuters the pledges showed donor confidence in how the money was being used.
"I think they reflect a confidence in Pakistan”s government, confidence in the way Pakistan has handled aid money before, the transparency that exists here and we believe that it also shows the stature of Pakistan leadership …," he said.
But Oxfam”s Phillips said donors should have given more in grants and that most of the new aid pledged on Saturday was soft loans that would burden Pakistan for years to come.
"At a moment like this, rich countries should be looking at how they can be cutting Pakistan”s debt rather than adding to it," he said.