The head of the U.N. refugee agency was to arrive in Pakistan on Thursday to review its relief operations for survivors of last month's devastating earthquake, and hold talks on the future of Afghan refugees in the country, an agency spokeswoman said. Antonio Guterres, head of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, was scheduled to visit two towns hit worst by the Oct. 8 quake, Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan's portion of Kashmir, and northwestern Balakot, for meetings with relief officials and to visit tent camps for homeless victims, said agency spokeswoman Vivian Tan.
His visit comes a day after Australian Prime Minister John Howard pledged US$37 million (Ђ32 million) in new aid during a tour of devastated Kashmir as Pakistan set up a volunteer corps to help in the reconstruction of the shattered region.
The 7.6-magnitude quake killed an estimated 87,000 people and destroyed homes of more than 3 million in northwestern Pakistan and its part of Kashmir. Many of the homeless people now shelter in tents provided by U.N. and other relief agencies as the frigid winter sets in the Himalayan foot hills.
On Wednesday, Howard promised the extra aid for immediate relief and reconstruction after viewing quake damage by helicopter and visiting a field hospital set up last week by a 140-member Australian team at Dhani, a village in the mountains of Pakistan's portion of Kashmir. The new offer of aid brings Australia's total pledge to US$52 million (Ђ44 million). In all, international donors have promised US$5.8 billion (Ђ5 billion), including offers of more than half a billion dollars each from the United States and Saudi Arabia. During the two-day visit by Guterres, he will hold talks with senior Pakistani government officials about the future of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, a UNHCR statement said Monday.
Guterres will arrive in Pakistan from neighboring Afghanistan and is scheduled to travel to Iran on the next leg of his regional tour. President Gen. Pervez Musharraf on Wednesday launched a new national volunteer corps with an initial strength of 2,000 enlistees, mostly young Pakistanis moved by the calamity that befell their country.
"I am confident that the National Volunteer Movement will meet the expectations of the nation," Musharraf told volunteers in the capital Islamabad before some of them headed to the quake zone. "I am hopeful that they will consider the reconstruction as a challenge."
Also Wednesday, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams praised relief efforts and toured a tent camp on the outskirts of Islamabad. The camp houses about 9,000 survivors who have migrated from the quake zone.
"These people are not being left to be victims. They are being helped, trained and given back their dignity and freedom," Williams said later after meeting with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, reports the AP. I.L.