U.S. to divert Pakistan aid for flood reconstruction
ISLAMABAD — The United States plans to redirect part of its existing $7.5 billion aid package for Pakistan to flood reconstruction, the U.S. aid chief said, but warned that other nations would only contribute money if Islamabad could ensure it would be well spent.
America has been the most generous contributor after the floods, rushing in emergency assistance to support a vital ally in the war against al-Qaida and Taliban. But rebuilding homes, roads, livelihoods and vital infrastructure will cost billions of dollars, and there are questions over who will pay.
Before the disaster, the U.S. had pledged to spend $7.5 billion over the next five years for projects including improving schools and hospitals, building dams and helping the country generate electricity.
Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said much of that package would now be spent on flood rebuilding. Teams are still assessing the damage to figure out the exact costs.
"That is absolutely what is required in order to meet the needs of the Pakistani people," Shah told The Associated Press late Tuesday.
He noted that much of the spending is already earmarked for the energy, agricultural and water sectors, all three of which were affected by the floods.
"If you think of just those three areas, going forward I suspect they would be more important," he said. "I think we will end up moving even more aggressively in that direction."
The floods began almost a month ago with the onset of the monsoon and have ravaged a massive swath of the country, from the mountainous north through to its agricultural heartland. More than 8 million people are in need of emergency assistance.
Some of the routes along which trucks carrying supplies to U.S. and NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan travel have also been affected by the floods. A spokesman for international forces in Afghanistan said supplies had been slowed down, but there had been no impact on operations.
On Tuesday, the United Nations said some 800,000 people had been cut off by the floods and were only accessible by air. It said that 40 more heavy-lift helicopters were urgently needed. The U.S. military has dispatched 19 choppers so far and the U.N. says it has five.
The government says about $800 million in emergency aid and assistance has been committed or pledged so far. But there are concerns internationally about how the money will be spent by the Pakistan government, which has a reputation for inefficiency and corruption.
Shah said the United States would continue to urge nations to donate.
"We are going to work at it, but these are tough economic times around the world and it will require a demonstration of real transparency and accountability and that resources spent in Pakistan get results," he said, adding that he was so far impressed with the commitment of the Pakistani government.
The death toll in the floods had been around 1,500 people but the disaster ranks as one of Pakistan's worst ever because of the scale and massive economic damage, especially to the country's vital agricultural sector.
In the south, authorities were still battling high rivers and new floods were reported in low-lying areas.
Saifullah Dharejo, the irrigation minister for Sindh province, said high tides were preventing the bloated Indus River from quickly emptying into the Arabian Sea as had been hoped.
Associated Press Writer Ashraf Khan in Karachi contributed to this report.