West's response condemned as slow and inadequate

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Indy Politics

Western governments rushed to step up their pledges for the earthquake relief effort after their initial response to the disaster was condemned as slow-moving and financially inadequate.

The United States, which was under pressure to increase a pledge of $500,000 (£280,000) considered almost derisory by many Pakistanis when it was made over the weekend, announced it intended to give $50m in emergency aid.

The gesture, intended to make up for the resentment caused by an initial pledge which, along with the British offering of £100,000, was labelled as "peanuts" by Qazi Hussain, the leader of the Pakistani opposition party Jamat Islami, was greeted as a major boost to the struggling relief effort.

Britain, too,increased its initial pledge to £1m for the effort, which the Government stressed would again be increased in coming days.

"The magnitude of this disaster is utterly overwhelming," Ryan Crocker, the American ambassador, said from Pakistan as he received an American transport plane full of blankets, plastic sheets and jerry cans. "We have under way the beginning of a very major relief effort," he said.

But, in a clear echo of the international response to the Boxing Day tsunami in south-east Asia, the generous donations of private businesses and individuals have caused eyebrows to be raised over government pledges which, initially at least, were regarded as relatively low.

A donation of $500,000 made by Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong's richest business tycoon, is equal to half of the British Government's increased pledge, and five times the amount it originally wanted to give.

So far, international donors have announced tens of millions of dollars in aid. But, again echoing the tsunami relief effort, aid agencies were quick to draw attention to the shortfall which almost always occurs between pledges made by governments in the immediate aftermath of a disaster and the total money that eventually arrives.

As well as the American and British pledges, the European Union has deployed aid workers to stricken parts of Pakistan and allocated €3.6m (£2.47m) in initial aid. In the Arab world, Kuwait has donated $100m and Yemen has said it will send two aid planes. South Korea, for its part, announced it would provide $3m in aid, while a 46-member search and rescue team including 18 medical officers from Malaysia was due to leave yesterday for Pakistan. Malaysia has also pledged $1m in aid. Australia lifted its contribution from $380,000 to $4.2m, with the possibility of more if it was needed.

Pakistan said Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Spain had sent sniffer dogs to help with the rescue efforts, while specialist rescue teams were sent over the weekend by Britain, France, China and Turkey. Germany, Japan and the Netherlands have also sent help.

But it was Washington's pledge, increased tenfold from its original offering of $100,000, that went some way to placating those in Pakistan who had recognised the initial pledge as woefully inadequate.

(Sri Lanka, one of the most serious victim of the tsunami and still struggling to rebuild itself, has also pledged $100,000.) "The initial announcement was a joke," said Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a Pakistani political analyst at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, pointing to the politically sensitive nature of the US/Pakistani relationship. It is very unusual for American aircraft to fly in Pakistan, and Islamabad, faced with vehement opposition to the US-led "war on terror" has forbidden American forces to operate on its soil. "Every move of the United States is judged here on political grounds. It was a rare opportunity for the United States to show that it's a true friend of Pakistan," said Mr Rais.

It is not likely to have escaped Washington's notice that its response to this latest disaster could be key in improving perceptions of the United States in Pakistan, an Islamic nation where many harbour deep resentment over the United States' invasion of Afghanistan and the Iraq war. In the wake of the tsunami, the US military was given a warm reception in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation.

Aid donors

Britain: £1m

United States: £50m plus helicopters

European Union: €3.6m plus aid workers on the ground

United Nations: $100,000

Kuwait: $100m

South Korea: $3m

Malaysia: $1m

Australia: $4.2m

Sri Lanka: $100,000