January 21, 2006

U.S. starts Pakistan quake reconstruction aid

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The United States handed over the
first tranche on Saturday of its $200 million grant to Pakistan
for reconstruction in the northern region devastated by an
October 8 earthquake.

U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas
Burns signed an agreement with Pakistani officials for the
provision of the grant over four years.

More than 74,000 people were killed and about 3 million
made homeless by the deadly quake, one of the worst disasters
in Pakistan's 57-year history.

The $200 million grant, $15 million of which was paid over
on Saturday, is part of a total $510 million pledged by
Washington for relief and reconstruction in quake-hit areas.

Burns said U.S. relief support had arrived in Pakistan
within hours of the earthquake. He said the grant assistance
would be used to rebuild schools and hospitals.

"This immediate response is a reflection of the cooperative
relationship that has developed between our two countries over
the years and which we are committed to continuing to expand,"
Burns said in a statement after signing the agreement.

He met Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, an ally in the
U.S.-led war on terrorism, who thanked the U.S. for its help.

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney visited Pakistan last month
to see first-hand the devastation caused by the disaster.

Former U.S. President George Bush also visited Pakistan
this month as a United Nations earthquake envoy. He said his
role would be to encourage those who have pledged relief and
reconstruction aid to deliver.

International donors have pledged about $6.4 billion in aid
to Pakistan, mostly earmarked for long-term rehabilitation and