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Swiss up aid ahead of Pakistan donor meeting

Many Pakistanis whose lives were shattered by the earthquake now only have tents to live in

(Keystone)

Switzerland is to boost financial aid for earthquake victims in Pakistan to SFr10 million ($7.8 million) by the end of the year.

The commitment came on the eve of a United Nations donor conference in Geneva designed to generate funding for the massive relief operation.

Walter Fust, director of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), told swissinfo he hoped the conference would result in a strong show of international solidarity towards the victims of the region.

"I hope financial support will be forthcoming – not only pledges but real commitments – and that this relief effort can develop into rehabilitation, reconstruction and longer term development," he said.

Two weeks ago the UN asked for $312 million to help survivors of the earthquake on October 8 in which at least 50,000 people died. On Wednesday the world body almost doubled the amount required, calling for $550 million.

Speaking in Geneva, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told representatives from around 60 countries that the scale of the tragedy "almost defies our darkest imagination".

With only a matter of weeks before the arrival of the first snows in the mountainous region where the earthquake struck, aid agencies are warning of a race against time to airlift enough food and building materials to enable hundreds of thousands of people to survive the winter.

Increased commitment

Fust, who is leading the Swiss delegation in Geneva, said on Tuesday that the government was prepared to allocate a further SFr6 million in aid on top of the SFr4 million already committed.

He said a further SFr10 million was likely to be made available for relief and rehabilitation projects next year. The SDC also intends to divert SFr2.5 million from its 2006 development budget for Pakistan to help communities in the disaster zone.

Fust said a number of factors were to blame for the slow response to the earthquake. These included the failure by Pakistan to provide a clear picture of the extent of the disaster, poor disaster preparedness, the lack of an emotional response on the same scale as the South Asia tsunami, and end-of-year budget constraints among donor countries.

"The earthquake has not come at a good time," he said. "The international community is probably only capable of responding to a certain number of major natural catastrophes and this year has been really incredible," he said.

Fust also regretted that the current bird flu scare in Europe had "substantially" diverted attention away from a catastrophe with a major loss of life.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont

In brief

More than 53,000 people are known to have died in the earthquake that flattened mountain villages in Pakistani Kashmir and adjoining North West Frontier Province where unknown numbers of bodies lie under the rubble.

More than 75,000 are known to have been injured seriously and people are still carrying more down from the hills on their backs.

The UN says around three million people will need shelter and food through the winter.

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