The European Union will reportedly propose that a major donor conference be held in October in Brussels to raise funds for the reconstruction of Pakistan, where flooding has devastated an area of the country that is half the size of Germany. The respected national daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reported Thursday that Belgian Foreign Minister Steven Vanackere, whose country currently holds the six-month rotating presidency of the EU, will propose the idea at a session of the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday afternoon in New York.
According to the newspaper, the donor conference would convene 22 large nations and banks that are behind the "Friends of Pakistan," a group that wants to help foster democratic order in Pakistan and that includes the United States, China and Germany.
On Thursday, the situation in Pakistan remained precarious. According to UN estimates, at least 15 million people have been directly impacted by the monsoon flooding, and 8 million badly need assistance. The Pakistan government itself is estimating that 20 million people have been left homeless. A Pakistani diplomat has been quoted stating that reconstruction could cost at least $15 billion (€11 billion.) In recent days, protests held by flood victims in Pakistan have at times turned violent. People have complained about a lack of food and they feel abandoned by the government.
Following dramatic appeals by the United Nations and aid organizations, relief aid and donations are finally starting to pour in for the victims of the massive floods. The UN announced on Wednesday that it had obtained 40 percent of the close to $460 million (around €357 million) it had appealed for in immediate relief.
'Not Enough to Rebuild Pakistan '
For its part, the German government said that it has increased the amount of money it is making available in emergency relief from €15 million to €25 million. In addition the country is providing a sum of around €43 million from its portion of aid money to be provided by the EU, the UN and the World Bank.
In light of the desperate situation, a number of countries have increased their initial relief contributions, including the United States. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to announce new relief plans at the UN on Thursday, her spokesman said. So far, the US has committed $90 million to the country to deal with the catastrophe. The State Department also said that American aircraft and helicopters have been deployed, and that they have rescued close to 6,000 people.
In Brussels, the European commissioner for international cooperation, humanitarian aid and crisis response, Kristalina Georgiewa, said that the EU had increased its humanitarian aid for the victims of the flooding catastrophe by €30 million, bringing to total to €70 million. "That is a considerable sum," said Georgiewa, "but this money is meant for emergency relief. Of course it's not enough to rebuild Pakistan." Eleven EU member states are also providing additional bilateral aid.
Georgiewa also stated that the EU would consider reforming the EU's aid measures in September. Given the increasing numbers of natural disasters the bloc must cope with, she said aid measures by the 27 EU member states must be better coordinated in the future. Echoing a call by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, she said the bloc should consider creating an EU rapid reaction force for natural disasters or at least a network amongst countries to coordinate aid. But European countries are divided by the proposal -- France supports it but, according to the Süddeutsche, Germany opposes it.
The US has already increased its aid commitments several times in recent weeks, and UN officials are hoping that other countries will follow its example. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to speak at Thursday's session.
'Scale of Flooding Greater than Previously Assumed'
There has also been an upsurge in private donations this week in Germany. Many believe that giving in Germany got off to a slow start not only because the mass scope of the disaster only gradually became clear but also due to worries people had that money they donated might fall into the hands of the extremist Taliban or that it might be stolen by corrupt government officials.
The government in Islamabad has sought to reassure potential donors that it would deal with relief aid responsibly. Interior Minister Rehman Malik told the BBC that his country was considering hiring foreign auditors to monitor the use of donations. He said there would be no situation in which donated relief funds or goods would wind up in the hands of extremists. "It belongs to the poor people, the flood victims," he said, promising that it would get to them.
The images of human suffering appear to be winning out over fears of extremism. After stating earlier this week that Germans had made only €2 million in private donations to Pakistan, the German Central Institute for Social Questions conducted a survey of the country's major charitable organizations and relief agencies and found that the number had risen to €24 million by Thursday. However, it was still markedly less than the €86 million that Germans donated to relief operations in Haiti during the same time period after the earthquake disaster hit that country earlier this year.
German President Christian Wulff issued a plea to Germans on public television on Wednesday night to make donations to aid organizations. "Conditions worthy of criticism should not come at the expense of the affected people," he said. "This is purely about survival." He added that millions of children are in the utmost state of emergency and that people abroad hadn't initially understood the entire scale of the natural disaster.
Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in Berlin: "With your donations, you can provide decisive help in reducing the misery of the people."
Apparently bowing to public and political pressure, German public broadcaster ZDF has stated that it will now host a TV fundraiser next Thursday -- a show that will provide expert information about the situation in Pakistan as well as give people the opportunity to donate. Germany's two main public broadcasters -- ARD and ZDF -- have often held television fundraisers after natural disasters, but they initially said they had no plans to do the same following the Pakistan disaster.