Aid pledges fall short of goal

Western aid pledges are falling far short of what United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) officials now say is needed to pull Cambodia through imminent food shortages and to support planting to prevent renewed starvation in 1981.

So far, donor countries meeting in New York this week have pledged only $24 million of UNICEF's $120 million, three-month goal.

The UN-coordinated aid effort is indispensible to overall Cambodian relief, since it can move the massive amounts of food aid and seed that smaller voluntary aid operations cannot handle.

UNICEF officials remain optimistic that the future will bring a quantum leap in pledges. But they are clearly worried about the current lag. The time is short. Major food shortages will hit most parts of the country by midsummer. Crop planting -- which, if successful, could put Cambodia well on its way to food self-sufficiency next year -- must be done before June's monsoons.

For these reasons, aid officials see the coming weeks as decisive: Either Cambodia's prospects brighten radically or it sinks back into a long black night of hunger.

Most new aid funding so far comes from European donor countries.

The United States, a key backer of the UN effort that has given a total of $ 79 million to the Cambodian cause, added another $8 million this week. Though a substantial offer, it is a far more guarded donation than UNICEF workers had hoped from the US.

State Department officials say US donations will be made on a monthly basis, depending on the success in monitoring and distributing aid in Cambodia itself. However, the Carter administration still claims that Cambodian relief remains a top priority that will not suffer because of the budget-cutting ax now threatening most federal programs.

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