Aug 16 - 22, 20

The full economic cost of one of the worst floods in Pakistan's history which hit the country last-month and is still continuing will not be known for some time. But surely it is going to be colossal for the people directly affected and the cash starved government and a serious blow to already stagnant economy. It may also lead to fresh upsurge in the soaring inflation of food items making lives of public more miserable.

The flood consequent upon recent torrential rains specially in the catchment areas of rivers Indus and Kabul in July has now reached Sindh after playing havoc with the lives of millions of people and causing death of about 2000 persons and colossal losses of property in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Interior Sindh and some areas in Baluchistan. In addition to the loss of life and property, the flood stated to be worst in the last 80 years has ruined the economy of the affected areas creating serious problems for the people and the administration of the areas.

The total collapse of the transport and communication system in the areas hit by the flood has made it difficult for rescuers to reach out to the marooned people. Apart from causing enormous loss of human lives, houses and standing crops in the farms, the floodwater has also washed away roads and bridges making the areas inaccessible.

The rehabilitation of people and physical and other infrastructure is going to be very expensive and time-consuming and the government cannot meet all this with its meager resources. It has rightly appealed to international community for help.

It is beyond doubt that Pakistan's economy has hardly achieved stabilisation and was on a bumpy road to recovery while the process of recovery was entirely based on agriculture sector. Now the mainstay of the economic recovery the agriculture itself is under stress after the floods therefore economy has again slipped into a highly vulnerable scenario.

The government has already decided to revise most of the targets fixed in the current fiscal policy effective from July 1, 2010. While the government is yet to estimate the actual economic cost of the floods, the non-governmental sector has already made public its projections about the ultimate losses caused by this calamity.

According to the Federal Flood Commission, more than 248,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged, and 1.38 million acres (58,000 hectares) of cropland were flooded across Pakistan. More than 10,000 cows have reportedly perished over the past eight days. Across Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces, more than 12,000 UNHCR tents have so far been distributed along with other thousands of other relief items such as plastic tarpaulins, blankets, jerry cans and kitchen sets as part of a coordinated response effort involving the government, UN and NGOs. UNHCR has also received supplies donated by the Saudi Fund for Development including 25,000 tents, 380,000 blankets, 126,000 plastic tarpaulins, 100,000 mattresses, and 25,000 kitchen sets as well as 20,000 food parcels for Ramadan.

UNHCR's relief items are being distributed by carefully selected partner charities including the Community Motivation Development Organisation (CMDO), Sarhad Rural Support Program (SRSP) and the Centre for Excellence in Rural Development (CERD) as well as central government and provincial partners.

Monsoon-affected people have told UNHCR teams how they fled their homes as walls of water hit them. Tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed or badly damaged, families have lost all their food stocks, livestock and personal possessions.

In addition to tents and plastic tarpaulins, UNHCR is distributing cooking sets, blankets, sleeping mats, jerry cans, and buckets. Some displaced families have set up makeshift-tented camps using donated aid supplies on the medium strip along the Islamabad-Peshawar Highway adjacent to the swirling Kabul River.

UNHCR's main mandate is protecting refugees, but the organisation has always positively responded to the call for humanitarian assistance for the local population of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. Living in Pakistan's monsoon-affected communities are some 1.5 million Afghan refugees who have taken shelter in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan over the past three decades and an estimated more than 700,000 people were displaced by fighting in the Swat Valley and other areas last year.

Further south in Sindh Province, Pakistan government officials have reportedly ordered the evacuation of villages along the Indus valley. Authorities said that they have set up 400 relief camps for those evacuated and are using 30 boats to help evacuations. All the above details indicated that the floods have simply ruined the agriculture sector in addition to causing damages to other sectors as well. This would result in not only lowering the tax collections but would also require substantive subsidies to recover from state of debris rendered by the floods.

Thus, the overall economic cost of the current floods might rise beyond imagination as well as estimates of the government's economic managers. Only on Friday, the government decided to divert Rs2.5 billion counter value funds to rehabilitation and rescue work. In the face of wide ranging devastation caused by the floods, this amount might appear to be peanuts. Therefore, the government would have to go by honest crisis management in a well-coordinated manner through utilisation of foreign humanitarian aids pouring in from the international community.