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Donor conference generates $580m in pledges

The donor conference was organised to raise funding for the massive relief operation

(Keystone)

A senior Swiss aid official tells swissinfo that a United Nations donor conference for Pakistan has given a boost to international engagement.

Toni Frisch, who heads the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit, said that the October 8 earthquake, which killed more than 53,000 people, required an exceptional response.

On Wednesday governments and other donors pledged an additional $580 million (SFr744 million) for Pakistani earthquake victims at the conference in Geneva.

But UN officials said it was unclear how much was going specifically to the emergency relief appeal.

Frisch was part of the Swiss delegation at the conference, which was led by Walter Fust, director of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

swissinfo: Are you satisfied with the outcome of the donor conference?

Toni Frisch: Yes I'm satisfied. It was important that it was done. There is no doubt that it was a good initiative. It was a good opportunity for networking and coordination and the conference also helped in building awareness of the disaster and in encouraging pledges.

swissinfo: What is the latest on the Swiss contribution to Pakistan?

T.F.: We announced that for this year we would spend at least SFr10 million and the same amount in 2006. We are also considering shifting some funds from the development cooperation programme to humanitarian aid.

So far we have already engaged about SFr7 million of the SFr10 million planned for this year. We started our work very quickly on the ground and we have been very active so far. Our contribution is partly on a multilateral level and partly bilateral.

swissinfo: Are you optimistic that the promised additional donations of $580 million made at the Geneva conference will be paid?

T.F.: I hope so. Of course, we know that it tends to be a slow process but I'm convinced today that many people were impressed. I have never seen a group of people so affected and concerned about a humanitarian situation. I'm sure this will give a boost to international engagement.

swissinfo: Why has the international response to the earthquake relief effort been so weak up to now?

T.F.: There are several reasons. I have the impression that many people, who were not very close to the situation, were not aware of the seriousness of the disaster. They dramatically underestimated the consequences of this earthquake.

It is not a standard earthquake and does not require a standard response. It demands much more because of the scale of the disaster and the difficult local conditions.

It also seems that a certain donor fatigue has set in this year. We have had the tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and even the floods in Switzerland.

swissinfo: You visited Pakistan earlier this month, what was your impression of the disaster zone?

T.F.: I had the opportunity to fly over some of the affected area and I also spent time with the Swiss team. I was impressed to see the attitude of the people, the dignity of these victims.

In such difficult conditions, it is admirable to see how they accept the catastrophe and do their very best, working together, to survive.

swissinfo-interview: Clare O'Dea

Key facts

On Wednesday, a donors' conference attended by 65 countries took place in Geneva. The meeting was called to raise more aid for Pakistan.
Donors at the conference promised an additional $580 million in aid.
This brings the total of promised aid to $1.3 billion since October 10, two days after the earthquake.
To date UN agencies have received just $111 million.

end of infobox

In brief

The October 8 quake centred in the mountains of northeastern Pakistan left some 53,000 people dead, 75,000 injured, and an estimated 3.3 million homeless.

The initial donor response has been slow. Increased aid has to be raised urgently because winter snowfalls expected within weeks will severely restrict aid operations.

The postal account number for donations is 10-15000-6, and the name of the appeal is "Earthquake Kashmir".

end of infobox


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