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GULF ARABS LEADING PAKISTAN QUAKE RELIEF FUNDS

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Sajad Ahmad, 12, found himself an only child after his brother was killed in the earthquake that devastated northern Pakistan last October. With no shoes to protect him from the freezing mud all around, he queues patiently, along with thousands of others, at a Saudi Arabian-funded feeding center in the Bala Noor Shah camp in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

The beans and rice he receives three times a day, ladled from vast metal drums bubbling on open fires, are what will keep him alive until the spring when he may be able to return to what's left of his village 90 km away in the Neelum Valley. "Thank God, this food has saved the lives of my family in such bad conditions," he said.

The feeding center was established by the World Assembly of Muslim Youths of Saudi-Arabia and Jamat-e-Islami -- a leading Pakistani religious and political organization -- and swung into operation just two days after the earthquake struck. Savoury Foods, a Pakistani company supplying bulk foods to hotel chains, has donated most of the daily supplies.


In line with the Islamic tradition of solidarity and support during times of crisis, Muslim nations from across the world, but particularly wealthier Arab nations from the Middle East, have supported Pakistan in its relief effort after the powerful earthquake struck.

Mohammad Sanaullah is supervisor of the center. "There are more than 450 families in Bala Noor Shah camp. We are providing three meals a day for around 10,000 people. We also sent food parcels to those in distant villages and to people sick in hospitals."

Within days of the disaster, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait led the way internationally by donating $100 million apiece. The UAE was also one of the first to set up an emergency field hospital and lend helicopters to provide an air bridge to provide relief supplies.

By the end of January, Qatar had dispatched relief goods totalling $20 million, along with medical units, while Bahrain contributed goods worth more than $3 million and Oman donated $5 million, according to the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center.

More than 80,000 people were killed and another 3.5 million were rendered homeless, just weeks before the start of the harsh Himalayan winter, creating one of the most challenging humanitarian operations ever.

Over 2 million quake survivors have been left with no option but to live in flimsy tents across an extended area of about 28,000 sq km, being kept alive by international and national assistance until at least the spring when they may have a chance of rebuilding their shattered lives and homes.

Perched on a hill outside Muzaffarabad sit six rows of dirty tents that have taken on the color of the mud that surrounds them in the four months the "camp" has been open.

It's home to 40 displaced families from settlements along the Neelum Valley and exists due to support from the government of Saudi Arabia. Although conditions are basic -- there is no running water or healthcare nearby -- those living at the site are optimistic.

"We are pleased at the level of assistance and we understand how many millions of people are in need. Our lives will be better come the spring when we can return [to our villages] and start to rebuild," Nusrat Kazmi, 22-year-old mother of two, said from the entrance of her tent.

Saudi Arabian support for Pakistan's quake victims has been acknowledged by Islamabad ahead of a state visit from the country's new leader this week.

"Pakistan was deeply appreciative of the solidarity and support readily extended by the leadership of Saudi Arabia in the wake of the devastating earthquake," Tasneem Aslam, a foreign office spokeswoman told reporters at a weekly briefing ahead of a two-day state visit of King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia starting on Wednesday. It was Abdullah's first visit to Pakistan after assuming the throne following the death of King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz last year.

Analysts say the solidarity shown by Arab nations towards Pakistan in its hour of need will bode well for future relations and shows the world that such a concept is a reality.

"The earthquake relief from countries like Saudi Arabia is a powerful, practical demonstration of the whole concept of Islamic unity and brotherhood in the Islamic world. It has left a fairly good impression amongst the people of Pakistan that Islamic countries are standing with them in this hour of the need," economic and political analyst, Farhan Bukhari, said.

Meanwhile, it looks like Muslim support for the quake is set to continue as relief moves slowly into reconstruction later this year.

Saudi Arabia alone has pledged $573 million for rebuilding and rehabilitation in the quake-affected areas. Among others, the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) has given $500 million, Iran $200 million, Turkey $150 million, the UAE $100 million and another $100 million by Kuwait.

Other gulf region countries, including Oman and Qatar, also indicated additional steps to be taken to support the reconstruction effort, more specifically in the areas of health and education facilities. High-level delegations from both countries are due to visit northern Pakistan early in February.


© IRIN
[Integrated Regional Information Networks is a project the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]

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Albion Monitor   January 31, 2006   (http://www.albionmonitor.com)

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