The United States will provide another $190 million in aid for victims of Pakistan's devastating summer floods that caused widespread human and material losses. The money is part of a $500 million accelerated package Washington has diverted from the $7.5-billion Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid bill.
U.S. Acting Special Representative Frank Ruggiero has arrived in Pakistan on his first official visit. He took up the new responsibility in December when his predecessor, veteran American diplomat Richard Holbrooke, died in a Washington hospital.
After signing the $190-million aid agreement with the Pakistani finance minister, Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, the American envoy told reporters the money will go towards the cash compensation program the government has devised for the 1.6 million families worst-hit by the floods.
"I am pleased to be here today to fulfill a pledge made by my former boss and Pakistan's great friend, Special Representative Richard Holbrooke ... I know Ambassador Holbrooke would have wanted to make this announcement personally, as he was very committed to responding to the needs of the flood victims," said Ruggiero.
VOA's Susan Yackee speaks with correspondent Meredith Buel about what the return of MQM will mean to the Pakistani government:
The worst-ever floods Pakistan's living memory swept north to south in July and August, destroyed entire villages, agricultural land, road infrastructure and affected more than 20 million people.
While promising more U.S. assistance for flood victims and their rehabilitation process, Ruggiero reiterated Washington's calls for transparent disbursement of the aid money to needy people.
"We urge the government of Pakistan to quickly implement accountability mechanisms as agreed with the World Bank to enable the expeditious release of the U.S assistance," said Ruggiero. "We also encourage other donors to assist the people of Pakistan in overcoming these devastating floods by contributing financial support to the Citizen's Damage Compensation Fund."
Under the compensation fund program, the flood-hit families are receiving nearly $1,200 in financial assistance, but there have been widespread reports of mismanagement of funds. The allegations have prompted the World Bank to impose strict conditions before it backs the program.
Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani's administration has been under fire from political opponents for poor governance and rising corruption in official departments. Transparency International in its recent report also has alleged corruption has increased in Pakistan within the past two years.
Ruggiero has arrived in the country at a time when Prime Minister Gilani's coalition government is struggling to survive. Recent defections of key political parties have deprived the governing alliance of a majority in parliament.
The second major coalition partner, known as MQM, quit the government a week ago, mainly protesting a hike in fuel prices on the eve of the New Year. In an apparent attempt to save his government from falling, the Pakistani prime minister told national parliament he is canceling the fuel price hike.