Pak pleads for flood aid at special UN meet

Pakistan pleaded with UN member states to rush in massive financial aid and warned that failure to do so would undermine its battle against extremists.

United Nations: Devastated by floods, Pakistan pleaded with UN member states Thursday to rush in massive financial aid and warned that failure to do so would undermine its battle against extremists.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the world and Pakistan faced a "defining moment," while Britain and the United States raised their combined aid contributions to 250 million dollars.

"I stand before you as the voice of 20 million Pakistanis devastated by the floods," Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the UN General Assembly`s emergency fund-raising session in New York.

"The massive upheaval caused by the floods and the economic losses suffered by the millions of Pakistanis must be addressed urgently. We cannot allow this catastrophe to become an opportunity for the terrorists."

Although weather forecasters say the monsoon systems are easing off and water levels receding, the fallout from three weeks of devastating floods that have left nearly 1,500 people dead is likely to last for years.

The nuclear-armed nation of 167 million is a top US foreign policy priority due to the threat posed by Islamist extremists, as Washington tries to bring an end to the nine-year war against the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.

In a poignant video message, Clinton urged Americans and the world to reach deep into their pockets for the crucial war on terror ally, saying: "This is a defining moment -- not only for Pakistan, but for all of us.

"The enormity of this crisis is hard to fathom, the rain continues to fall, and the extent of the devastation is still difficult to gauge.

"In surveying the lives and landscape affected by this disaster, we see brothers and sisters; mothers and fathers; daughters and sons. We see 20 million members of the human family in desperate need of help."

Clinton doubled US aid from 90 million dollars to 150 million dollars, while Britain said it planned to double its contribution to more than 64 million pounds (99 million dollars).

"I have come to New York directly from Pakistan, where I saw the dire need for more help," British Development Secretary Andrew Mitchells told the General Assembly.

"It is deeply depressing that the international community is only now waking up to the true scale of this disaster."

Clinton announced that the State Department had set up a Pakistan Relief Fund and urged Americans to donate, either online or by texting F-L-O-O-D to a special cell phone number.

"Every dollar makes a difference," she said. "Five dollars can buy 50 high energy bars providing much needed nutrition; 10 dollars can provide a child or mother with a blanket; and about 40 dollars can buy material to shelter a family of four."

The US pointman on Pakistan called on China to join the global effort, saying billions of dollars would be needed for the country`s reconstruction.

"I think the Chinese should step up to the plate," Richard Holbrooke told reporters at an Asia Society event before the UN meeting.

More than 40 speakers were scheduled to take the floor of the General Assembly to pledge increased assistance.

Opening the special session, UN chief Ban Ki-moon described the disaster as "one of the greatest tests of global solidarity" and said Pakistan was facing a "slow-motion tsunami."

Qureshi said the economic damage was at least 43 billion dollars and warned that failure to assist, "could undermine the hard won gains made by the government in our difficult and painful war against terrorism."

The General Assembly adopted a resolution urging the international community to help Pakistan recover, as foreign donors belatedly rallied in support of the embattled Muslim nation.

The Asian Development Bank said it would provide two billion dollars to repair roads, bridges, power lines, homes, schools, medical facilities and farm structures, and the World Bank has promised to lend 900 million dollars.

At least six million flood survivors in desperate need of food, shelter and clean drinking water require humanitarian assistance to survive, as concerns grow over potential cholera, typhoid and hepatitis outbreaks.

The floods wiped out villages, farmland and infrastructure, and UN aid coordination body OCHA said more than 650,000 homeless families were still without basic shelter.

In Islamabad, US Senator John Kerry and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari urged the world to act swiftly to stop extremists exploiting the country`s devastating floods and to prevent social unrest.

Bureau Report

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