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Ex-President Bush Seeks More Quake Aid

( [email protected] ) Oct 07, 2006 03:01 PM EDT

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Former President George H.W. Bush has appealed for nearly $100 million in aid for survivors of last year's South Asia earthquake, saying tens of thousands face another winter living in tents.

"If they're in tents, that's not good enough," Bush told a news conference Friday to mark the first anniversary of the Oct. 8, 2005 quake that killed more than 80,000 people and left more than 3 million homeless in Pakistan and India. "But it's a heck of a lot better than it was a year ago."

Bush, the U.N. envoy to promote help for survivors of the 7.6-magnitude quake, recalled predictions immediately after the disaster that Pakistanis in rugged mountains would have difficulty getting through the winter. "And it didn't happen," he said.

"Nearly 300,000 people have now returned home safely after living in tents for nearly half a year," he said. "However, full-scale reconstruction and the full resumption of basic services is going to take years."

Bush said snow was already falling in some parts of Pakistan and it was critical to get access to people in remote locations.

"If the upcoming winter were to be harsh, elderly people and young children can face renewed vulnerabilities," he said. Aid agencies expect mountain dwellers to start pouring soon into lowland camps to escape the coming freeze.

Bush said the Pakistani government was determined "that even if the winter might be harsh, people will have protection — so I think they're moving very hard to try to move toward permanent housing."

Reconstruction, however, has moved slowly, constrained by rigorous new quake-proofing rules.

According to the relief agency Oxfam, 1.8 million survivors are still living in tents or makeshift shacks.

At the news conference, Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan's minister of state for economic affairs, disputed that figure and insisted that only about 30,000 people were still living in tents — just 5 percent of the original number last year. She said helping such a small number during the coming winter will be "very manageable."

Bush didn't address the discrepancy in the numbers, but he said the early recovery plan for quake-affected areas had received just two-thirds of the $255 million needed.

"We're still missing $94 million which is still critical for bridging the gap from relief to recovery," he said. "The sectors that remain underfunded are water and sanitation, housing and support for vulnerable people."

Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf appealed Thursday for $800 million to cover additional reconstruction costs, Khar said.

Bush told reporters he wasn't satisfied with his efforts to get donors to fulfill aid pledges, saying donor fatigue was part of the problem.

"We've made some progress, but heaven knows I've got a long way to go before I can express total satisfaction," he said.

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