News / Asia

Kerry Sets Visit to Pakistan as US Boosts Flood Aid

The State Department says Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry will visit Pakistan next week to survey damage from the country's flood disaster. Kerry is a key sponsor of the long-term U.S. civilian aid plan for Pakistan approved by Congress last year.

The United States has sent scores of civilian and military relief workers and experts to Pakistan, but Senator Kerry will be the highest-level U.S. political figure to visit since the flooding began last month.

Kerry was a co-sponsor of the five-year, $7.5-billion civilian aid program to Pakistan approved by Congress last year.

State Department officials say the Kerry visit is intended to help raise awareness of Pakistani relief needs among the U.S. public, and to discuss how the Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid plan might be recalibrated to deal with flood related needs.

The State Department said Thursday that the U.S. financial commitment to Pakistan flood relief has reached $76 million, and that discussions are underway on how the Kerry-Lugar-Berman program might help in Pakistan's long-term flood recovery.

At a news briefing, the U.S. Agency for International Development's acting disaster-assistance director Mark Ward said the world community's commitment to Pakistan must remain long after the flood waters recede.

"The United States will," said Mark Ward. "And you can get that we will use all of our resources to keep the other nations behind us. The Kerry-Lugar-Berman funding is robust, and the people in the field who are deciding how to spend that money are re-thinking their plans because of the flood. Almost everything they were planning to do in terms of you know, better energy, better water, better infrastructure, has been impacted by the floods."

U.S. officials are pressing for more flood relief contributions from American corporations and private citizens.

The State Department's Deputy Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan Dan Feldman said sudden natural disasters, such as the 2004 East Asian tsunami and Pakistan's 2005 earthquake generated far more early contributions.

Feldman said the poor global economic picture and so-called donor fatigue after this year's Haiti earthquake are problems, but said the fund-raising for Pakistan flood relief should increase as the dimensions of the damage and losses become clearer.

"The story, as a story, is very different. It is incremental in nature," said Dan Feldman. "And it takes quite a while for people to focus in on it and see what the implications are, especially - as we keep noting - the ramifications may well be medium-term and longer term in nature as well as more immediate."

The first two of 19 U.S. military helicopters ordered to Pakistan this week by Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived at an air base near Islamabad Thursday.

They will replace six U.S. helicopters and crews diverted to Pakistan from Afghanistan duty several days ago, and which are credited with helping rescue more than 3,000 people.

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